Wednesday 31 May 2017

After the Debate

As I suspected beforehand, little will have changed as a result of the debate on BBC 1 this evening. I think Jeremy Corbyn by appearing will consolidate what has been a good campaign so far. He used his time well and wasn't 'pushy'. Tim Farron at last was heard and made a good final attack on Theresa May's absence, but otherwise had an absence of punch and of course there is his odd staccato robotic style (although is coherent). Perhaps Amber Rudd ought to be the Tory leader; some of her defences were fairly pathetic. The best of them was probably Caroline Lucas, in that she had clarity and attack and, of course, policy. The SNP leader also did well, with his promotion of Scotland along with how they'd act in the House of Commons. The Plaid Cymru leader was a little out of it. And as for the UKIP leader, he was the nasty joke-turn, full of bluster, but at the end made the simplistic appeal on the basis of being "proved right" - which, of course, is not the case. So I am not changing my analysis as regards my previous entry seen below here.

Corbyn, Jeremy (Labour) B [Restrained, consolidating]
Farron, Tim (Liberal Democrat) C+ [Good at the end]
Lucas, Caroline (Green) A [Expressive]
Nuttall, Paul (UKIP) C [Dislike but bluster gets heard]
Robertson, Angus (Scottish Naional Party) B+ [Solid]
Rudd, Amber D [Defensive]
Wood, Leanne (Plaid Cymru) D+ [Little impact]

Before the Debate

In 455 CE, after only two and a half months into his reign, the Western Roman emperor Petronius Maximus, a wealthy senator and a prominent aristocrat, was fleeing the Vandal assault on Rome abandoned by his bodyguard, and then (probably) a mob overtook him, stoned him, chopped up his body, and threw the remains into the River Tiber. [Thanks to Rev. James Ishmael Ford]

He had come into power after the violent death of Valentinian III. There was no obvious successor, and the army was divided regarding its support for three main candidates. Maximus had the support of the Roman Senate and by distributing some of his wealth to officials of the imperial palace he secured power on 17 March.

Genseric managed to capture Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian III's widow, and her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia as they tried to escape. Rome was sacked with little violence and murder. Eudoxia and her children were the last of Rome's imperial family.

It is the last day of May. Can it be the last day of Theresa May? Can she be sacked on June 9th?

Let's look at the General Election campaign at this point. I'm writing before the debate that will feature now Genseric - sorry Jeremy Corbyn.

First of all, as a dyed in the wool Liberal Democrat supporter I am sad to report the complete lack of traction of the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.
If there is anyone who ought to resign after this election, beyond Theresa May we hope, it is him. Now much of it is not his fault in that the General Election was called too early for people to realise the sheer cost and stupidity of the exit from the European Union and for enough of them to change their minds.

Compromised early on by his evangelical Christianity in a setting of social equality, he has also appeared to be robotic in manner and lost in an unbelievable mantra that he provides the only opposition. He accepted Theresa May's assertion that this was and is a 'Brexit' General Election and then produced a manifesto for an opposition leader.

The proper assertion would be to say that as a political party can do so and as a General Election trumps any (advisory) referendum, this party would be elected to stay in the European Union. Does anyone seriously believe that the Liberal Democrats would negotiate to exit the European Union? No. So the argument for a second referendum is from a minority position in the House of Commons: in other words, after they lost. Even if unrealistic, a manifesto sets out a position to be had in government. You stand by your principles. The tactic for the second referendum 'on the destination' works during a parliament but not in a manifesto.

I knew from the off that Theresa May's 'strong and stable' repetition was rubbish, but it took her U turn (and denial of it) on social care to remind everyone of the U turns, helped by an otherwise lousy interview by 'Stuffing' Jeremy Paxman. He had her running down his interview narrative, only to bottle out when he could have used the 'weak and wobbly' alliterative response. Indeed he failed to follow up the consequences of a 'no deal' exit via his repetitive questioning.

She also appeared wooden against Brillo Pad's questioning (Andrew Neill). Indeed she was wooden on BBC 1 The One Show, especially when contrasted against Jeremy Corbyn's warmth and normality.

Indeed, now we have no policy detail on just about anything, except the continuation of the bust mantra. But the reality is the cuts already in health, education and social services, and of course the police.

This has been a disaster of a campaign for the Conservatives. She wasn't even mentioning their name much at one point, leaving a problem that many half-ignorant voters would be looking for her name on the ballot paper and not finding it. The only evidence of a relaunch in any sense a few days ago was using the Conservative name again.

On the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn took a risk to campaign on social and economic issues, with an agenda that makes a difference. He viewed exiting the EU as a given, but one to maintain as much status quo for the functioning economy as possible, and maintenance of libertarian and social conditions as well. His main thrust was to put right what has been going wrong in a definite inclusive and collective manner.

And this gamble (that Tim Farron did not make) has worked. The agenda has shifted.

Then we have the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is confident in himself, despite his recent memory loss and lack of instant notes, and has actually campaigned in front of people openly instead of using television tricks as May has done (the equivalent of doughnutting).

There is also the marginal point but could be significant in one or two places that more young people have registered to vote and, under his leadership, may just might go and vote.

The Greens haven't got a look-in because Jeremy Corbyn has stolen most of their ground, except perhaps more radical environmental concerns, and UKIP led by the daft Paul Nuttall have had Theresa May's 'nasty talk' steal their territory. However, taking from Labour and giving to the Conservatives that UKIP have served may now change as Jeremy Corbyn becomes more credible.

Now of all the outcomes, the possibility that Theresa May could end up with a similar majority to the one she had would be a disaster for her. Would she even survive such an outcome.

My thesis is that she went to the country (after repeatedly saying she would not) to grab the huge majority predicted. She did this, even with all the hard core talk regarding exiting the EU, on the basis that she could defeat both her single market faction in the Tories and the hard exit faction in the Tories. It was never about the naughty opposition parties she blamed for not being her sychophants. It was, yet again, the problem in the Tory party, the problem that backfired for Cameron when he hoped a referendum would defeat the Tory nut jobs once and for all, only to receive a backlash from so many people who could in ignorance blame their economic woes on immigration and had a silly view of Brussels ruling us rather than sharing sovereignty.

Should the election prove that each faction can defeat her negotiating, then she is bust politically. She will have lost her gamble, as Cameron lost his.

Let's be clear. The only track record of Theresa May is one of indecision and changing her mind. She was uncommitted to make a stance to remain, beyond a few demonstrations, because what she really wanted was to slip into power. Apparently she looks to Joseph Chamberlain for a social and economic outlook - or an advisor does - but we don't really know. All we know is what she has done, and it has been pretty negative for our social institutions and will be more so for the full costs of leaving the European Union.

She might still get the majority she wants. Then we will see how she just used the General Election. She probably wants a close relationship with Europe and all this hard talk is pure baloney. Why should anyone believe what she says when no one actually knows - other than continuing Tory privilege of course.

So really we ought to vote for something more positive. And let's not have this bullshit about Corbyn and his incapabilities etc.. He will be as supported by the Civil Service as any Prime Minister and he will grow into the job. He would 'look at the evidence' for matters of peace, war and security, but most of all he would set us on a compassionate and inclusive growth path. It matters that there are universal benefits for everyone, even millionaires, because that's why there is progressive taxation. It is the only way to remove the heart attack - don't lose but dementia - do lose lottery when it comes to social care, plus social care can become as developed as the NHS. We stop losing the NHS. We get back our railways, and essential utilities. We get back a proper political process too: party democracy.

I don't buy some sort of selective grand coalition stitch up to freeze him out. Even in proportional representation, parties lose and win elections. Labour lost in 2010 and that's why there was never a stitch up with the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens. Even a small Tory win would be a kind of losing for them.

Now let's see what happens in this debate tonight, where wisely Jeremy Corbyn turns up and Theresa May still does not, depsite having her own 'Presidential' campaign. A President who sends along her number something instead?

Sunday 28 May 2017

Visit the Society of Friends (Quakers)

The thing is, if you have tinnitus, like I do, is it a good idea to go to a Quaker Meeting? This is what I did today. The answer is yes, because funnily enough a Quaker Meeting is not silent. A chap afterwards agreed with my suggestion that Quaker Meetings are not meditations but "waiting". There is a theological difference.

There were twelve present, and I was told it is sometimes more and sometimes fewer. The quip is that this is still more than the Unitarians.
They had more when the Quakers met closer to the centre of Hull in Percy Street. I was told that it was a busy Meeting then and there were children who could have run straight out into the road. After they moved, the numbers went right down. This isn't the reason, of course, but the reason why the numbers have been so fewer is shared with many religious bodies including the Unitarian meeting place.

It is not silent and not meditation, because a clock ticks (I'd like to have seen a large wooden clock!), people read and shuffle pages, and people get up and talk. The main inspired message by one individual was from Advices and Queries that we should share the burden of each others' failings. This was followed up. Mention was made of lessening conflict and thus reducing the impetus for terrorist outrages as with earlier this week. I "ministered" as well; I wasn't going to say anything but got to a point where I would. I said that I'd been on my travels looking in various places and that numbers were lower than expected, and I do want to get to the URC - it meets so very early! - and this is a body puzzling now over its very existence. But then as long as each group is authentic to itself then that's where it will find truth.

I didn't know they have afterthoughts. This is where, after finishing, and a quick greeting and chat, everyone sits down again for some more!

But the real surprise came in the coffee period. Here I have to mention the local Unitarians and my own opinion. I was in the Quaker building and told it was expensive to run. To me, it was fit for purpose, but I said to this person that the Hull Unitarian building, in my opinion, is not fit for purpose, and in my view doesn't have the space to make usable rooms, which this Quaker building enjoys. So I quipped that I would sell the Hull Unitarian building and move into this one, except for the difference in worship styles. On the other hand, the Unitarians might meet in the afternoon... The person spoke to said this would be really great to share ministry and witness from the one base.

The other point made there by this person was a 'so what' if the numbers are so low. The building serves community groups and this includes local health needs, so close is it to the main hospital. A chap said he used to use the Unitarian building in a yoga group, but this group now meets in the Quaker building. This just shows how daft is the inability to share, because the provision of building resources is useful to the same people.

I was always in a minority about this and of course I am not a Unitarian member and indeed have ceased to attend on Sundays. But as someone who was interested, I'd not improve the Hull Unitarian building, with the cost involved, but sell it to someone who'd find it useful and use the income to invest elsewhere. I would create some guaranteeing covenant for putting much of that money into the Society of Friends' building to be beneficial for both parties. I would not do it without the Unitarian name added to the front of the building, a notices area added and putting audio-visual equipment into the meeting room. If the Unitarians set up the equipment and the screen, the Quakers could use the same for business meetings, and other groups (with care) could use the equipment for whatever their purposes. Then do without books (put the lyrics, readings and images on screen) like they do at the Hull Community Church.

As for my tinnitus, it was noisy enough in there that I didn't notice it. But my dry throat and its tickle spot did demand repeated attention to avoid descending into coughing. That would have been a great nuisance in there.

Friday 26 May 2017

Looking towards a Positive Islamic Future

Paul Nuttall, leader of UKIP, in a return to the General Election, says that he's not afraid to blame radical Islam as a cancer to be rooted out.

What is radical Islam? Radical Islam might just be Islam. It is like referring to 'fundamentalist Muslims'. When the claim is that the Qur'an was recited directly from an angel of God, then all Muslims are fundamentalist.

It's about terrorism? The IRA did terrorism. It drew from Catholics, it had Catholic clergy who ought to have known better, but there was also the legal seal of the confessional. But then the difference between IRA terrorism and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism is that the IRA never did its terrorism in the name of Roman Catholicism or the Pope.

However, it is quite possible to have a violent Christian terrorism in an unknown future, say one that wants to bring about the last days perhaps on the basis that secular society 'oppresses' them. Anabaptists were deemed to be violent and as terrorists, and the response of the authorities in Munster was harsh. Times moved on.

Some say that extreme terrorists, like the one who struck in Manchester on 22nd May 2017, and killed children at a pop concert, are mentally ill. This includes being psychopathic. They are not of a community who would retain empathy.

I don't buy it for a minute. I have met Christian fundamentalists (I do try to avoid them) but even less than fundamentalists seem to trigger a switch that goes from ordinary discourse to some sort of internal logic contradictory to ordinary narratives: 'from the perspective of faith' it is called, and it is quite normal. It does not take much for people inside cults and sects, in tight-knit groups, to take this kind of thinking to a detached level and start losing an empathetic perspective.

Let's face it, if you join the military you are trained to kill. Many who retain and regain empathy after military service then become traumatised. Even having to think for themselves in arranging life outside the military can send some on to the streets. So the right immediate community can send people with extreme religious ideology into killers.

People do leave sects and cults and return to more connected (or less disconnected) thought. This is not mental illness towards recovery; it is forms of extreme rationality that return to the muddle and ambiguities of the everyday. The Nazis were a warning in history because people could and did operate the gas chambers, and yet somehow gained moderated empathy after the War. Nazism was a culture of cruelty, and people found themselves in a supporting environment being viciously cruel, all in the name of order and even national culture.

I have never believed that Islam is problem free (or any religion for that matter: even Buddhists can be tribal and engage in civil war). Islam is about the tribe; the tribe might be intended for all humanity, but then all humanity would be Islamic. Islam promotes itself as the one, final, original, true, unadulterated religion. Its first prophet, it says, is Adam. His message was corrupted, as was Abraham's, Moses', Jesus' - until Muhammad recited the Qur'an and preserved it because it was given in the divine language of Arabic.

It isn't pure, and that's where the first clash comes. Jesus simply never wrote a Qur'an to start with, or any other record; nor is the Islamic view of his crucifixion the most likely historical. The Qur'an completely misunderstands Christianity and the Trinity doctrine because it relied on information from a non-mainline group that itself didn't understand the doctrine. Far from being divinely recited, it shows cultural setting in time and place.

But of course it does not follow that Islam necessarily encourages violence. After all, Islam tolerated when some other religions did not. But it was toleration from a position of superiority, and a limited toleration. What it does is assists States demanding uniformity, and serves that uniformity as the one superior, original and final unadulterated religion, and what it often gets in modern times is a pluralistic setting that allows it to grow or shrink, and this it appreciates (because it thinks it will succeed).

On the other hand, look at Christian writings and actions about the one and only Incarnation of God. And - my speciality - look at Unitarian writings in the nineteenth century. This was the evolved, superior, rationalistic, approach to religion, Christianity made even better. Darwin and religion added together to produce the highest form: liberal Protestantism. It's all about: "I'm better than you."

But there is a complicated history of religions and violence. Think of the Crusades and the Popes who blessed the warriors.

In modern times, questions have been asked of the Muslim communities (plural because there are different strands).

First question must be, why did it take so long for Muslims in general to condemn the violence and threats at the time of the Satanic Verses controversy, when Shia Iran condemned literature? Why was nothing done to see the corrosive effects, the price tag, on Wahabi Islam exported to so many Western mosques by Saudi funding? Why has Islam and its clerical cliques been so suspicious of Western Islamic scholarship about origins and how the faith developed?

What is wrong with the kind of scholarship that Christianity has handled for some three hundred years? The answer may be because it threatens to undermine the supposed directness of the recite command, the apparent perfection of the Qur'anic Book.

The other problem is the relationship between expansion and violence: that either Islam spread initially as a kind of Holy War with territorial expansion, or (due to no archaeological evidence for its Arabian origins) it had its beginnings in the Near East after violent Arabian expansion.

Using the stories of origins in Arabia, the early Islamic community fought the declared 'disloyal' opposition of Jews in Madina. It also continued to raid camel trains across the desert. However, contemporary anti-Jewish Islamic sentiment has followed the rise and actions of Israel, and when it appears it (like others) fails to make the distinction between the Israeli State and the ethnic Jew.

As for development, if the Qur'an is rearranged into time order, it starts with general visions and develops into communal rules. (That gives the book and its visions credibility.) But it isn't arranged in time order, but in chapter (Sura) size order. Children who learn to recite it by memory often do not know what it is about, even though they can recite as it was apparently first recited. Does this matter? I think it does, because of the Christian child and teenager who, on reading the Bible for themselves, and not having it constantly interpreted for them by some approved person, can start to say, 'What does this actually  mean?' or, 'Hang on, this bit isn't quite like they say it is!'

At one time there were about six Qur'ans in the early Islamic empire until the one version was arranged by insisting on the one language, by having it once in its peculiar order of size of Suras.

Of course there is resistance to such a critical, liberal view of the material. For example, in Christianity many a believer will say that the Christian nativity is myth and unhistorical. I would argue that the same can be said of Abraham setting up the Ka'ba that was apparently later lost to Paganism - with a water miracle too; the same can be said of the Night Journey.

I'm not a Muslim and will state these things. Can a Muslim say them? No, but this is what a pluralistic world means: where people can make these arguments and be able to do so freely. In turn, Islam has every right to establish itself, expand, recruit (and lose) people and flourish. This is the deal.

Let's give Islam its due. Islam preserved and developed Greek and Hindu knowledge. From Hinduism and through Islam came a number system that worked and has lasted into the computer age of binary and hexadecimal. From the Greeks came a naturalistic philosophy that Islam learnt about and put in its libraries for only later incorporation into Christianity. Thomas Aquinas depended on Islam's work. Islam developed science.

A significant additional reason why Eastern Europe was able to pluralise early in the 1500s and early 1600s, and show a vision of later Western society, was because of the influence and impact of Islam at its south-eastern borders. When tolerance receded it was because Catholic Christian intolerance was restored. Unitarianism in Hungary was crushed; Socinians had to get out of Poland (in 1660).

Yet, as the West would come to a Renaisance, the Islamic ulama clericalised even further. And the religion that was supposed to be superior among its neighbours found itself at second fiddle. Thus a chip started to appear on the Islamic shoulder.

That chip on the shoulder has been intensified by Western intellectual development from the Renaissance and Enlightenment (almost like superior revelation), by Western power and imperialism, by the Islamic States backing the wrong side during the First World War and the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire, by imperialists drawing up silly boundary lines cutting across tribal areas (notably Saudi Arabia and Iraq), by nationalist and nationalist-socialist leaders and monarchs turning into oppressors, and a failure of democracy (most notably in the recent short-lived Arab Spring). The 2003 intervenion in Iraq was an act of partial Western stupidity at at time when intervention in Afghanistan could be justified and did have support within.

But at the same time Islam has always contained a tendency to violence. It did at the divide between Sunni and Shia at the time of the third Caliph. 1844 is a good example, with the killings in Karbala and later on over the expected coming of the Hidden Twelfth Imam. I have some knowledge of this in the context of the  Babi expression of that and Baha'i Faith born in the faction fighting of the two groups exiled to Palestine and Cyprus in order to keep the peace. Once again claims to final and perfect written revelations have a part to play, this time in the context of emerging into the West in the nineteenth century. The Baha'i Faith later did spiritualise and Westernise and even bureaucratise.

So if you are colonised, pick the losers in international conflicts, have insensitive borders created for you, and end up with a succession of secular, corrupt and violent tinpot dictators, it's no wonder that violence can emerge, but that violence has an internal dynamic.

This superiority has become a death-cult ideology among a few, younger hotheads influenced by radical preachers wanting to force a Caliphate upon others. People become killers of the outsiders: those who like dance, music and show a bit of flesh.

And in Indonesia comes the shocking public caning of people doing no more than being as they are: gay and loving.

It is up to Muslims to rescue the failing reputation of their religion. Something has however begun in the UK with open days and public explanations. People will respond. Faith communities must break their own boundaries and include others: a multi-two-way process. We start in a better place than on the European continent.

But Islam also needs reformation: a self-critical reformation (using itijad), beginning from the Western university.

This is not about Muslims saying sorry. No one is asking Muslims to take responsibility for these wayward killers. However, when the radicalisation takes place in Western mosques, then explanation is needed.

In the end, terrorism is always political. It arises because of politics, even going back hundreds of years, and although it needs opposing and reducing, it dies off with politics. Put the lid on it, yes, but reduce the fire under the pot. There is no Bader Meinhoff terrorism, for example, now, but at one time they were a group attacking the basis of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Profiles matter. The Manchester terrorist was radicalised partly with his father fighting in Libya and going to Syria. He grew the distinctive large beard, stopped his smoking, read the Qur'an assiduously, and absorbed extremist islamicist propaganda. He clashed with his moderate mosque in Didsbury especially when an Imam there criticised happenings in London. People noticed him but nothing happened; he was known to the authorities but not rated.

So he was an educated young male of a home-grown partly secularised base, but of immigrant parents, and he changed rapidly after international experience and identifying with violent Islamic material.

So, although it is international, Islam has to ground its worshippers in their home culture and communities. It has to watch its youth because of these international events.

At the same time, other communities have to cut the racism, and tackle the isolationism (the multi-culturalism that leaves people knowing their own and not the other). The government has to think further and longer before it jumps into foreign aggression. However, none of the UK Muslims are oppressed and are much freer than, say, Christian counterparts in many a Muslim State.

In the end, though, this is about 'society in a person' (that kind of mentality): the immediate society, the ideology, and the way individuals in their chosen collective can lose all sense of balance.

The future will be better when Islam undergoes a Reformation; meanwhile, the task of Islam and the mosque on the ground via its worship and social work is to keep their people connected beyond the tribe and develop their sense of broadest communal empathy. For example, be like the Sikhs: which is to nurture a spirit of welcome, practical service and openness from one group to others. It is quite practical.

Sunday 21 May 2017

Visiting an Anglican Minster

As part of my current church tourism I went to a service on Sunday at the renamed Hull Minister, Holy Trinity Church. It has been seven years since I attended an Anglican service. As I explained after this service to one of the three clergy with whom I conversed, I used to attend at Barton over the river and things faded away, as things are fading away religiously regarding the Unitarians. However, I added that I cannot regard one person as exclusive deity and indeed, I said, "I don't think transcendence is like that." She said I was "liberal" and I said, "Oh very liberal." In fact it was worse than this, because I was able to take part in as little of the service as I could at the end of Barton days.

I estimated fifty people in the place for this service, which didn't seem to be many, and didn't look to be many. On the other hand, there are several services and it lacked the choir that was performing at the evensong. I overheard one person say they are in the choir, so in 'counting up' I can't but there is always overlap as some attend more than once. In fact there seemed to be a number of officials.

The first person I chatted to was in the seating in front of me, and he asked my name then. Afterwards saying I was from the Unitarians, on and off since 1985, he said he knew the minister from the interfaith forum. He ended up describing me as "well read" having made reference to Buddhism and Baha'is, and the latter I corrected him regarding its origins (he asked if from India; no, Iran). I said its precursor came from a very violent episode in Shia history, that it spiritualised along the way, that its key change was via the son of its main founder who Westernised it, and then it became bureaucratic.

It's odd what you end up talking about. I had expected to refer to Presbyterians and Independents divided within Holy Trinity prior to toleration: I never mentioned it. Instead, I talked to the preacher who had invited comment regarding her sermon at coffee. No one took her up, as far as I could hear, but I did. Her sermon was on the Bible reading of Paul at Athens, about which he was regarded as an amateur and like just dropping birdseed around (or similar). I said to her that I don't buy it; Paul was cross-cultural. He was a strategist. She agreed. I further made the point that there were many end-time preachers like Jesus and with a Jesus ethic, and allowing for some spread in synagogues, Paul is the person who made the connection. I said we don't know about the Jewish Church. She didn't disagree with anything I said, only a translation she'd used to suggest Paul approached Athens in a way that was not in-depth.

Yet the sense was low Protestant Anglicanism, with a folksy MC clergy presiding at the Eucharist. I didn't go forward. I said to the male clergyman with whom I spoke that last week I went to the Hull Community Church and it didn't have a Bible reading as such, no Lord's Prayer and the sermon could have been given in some Unitarian churches. But the song lyrics were impossible.

How Hull Community Church can be regarded as 'more biblical' than Holy Trinity puzzles me, as Holy Trinity using the standard low Common Worship (printed for use separately) just laboured the point all along the way. Anglican liturgy can be like someone stuffing a meal down your throat and they just keep stuffing it down.

I was never going to 'return to Anglicanism' simply because the wider Church is unethical regarding social inclusion. I was disappointed to see this one uses the Alpha Course as some sort of magic bullet for recruiting and retention (usually recirculation). It is advertised as 'asking any questions' but it comes with answers and manipulation, a marketing package from Holy Trinity Brompton.

I just cannot see how anyone, with a secular upbringing, technological solutions (and problems) and the common narrative for meaning (not just intellectual but in basic assumptions) would want to switch to supernatural causality and the cultic worship of whom Paul repeatedly called a man at Athens and only the preacher clergywoman called God. Why alter such a mentality, for no reason whatsoever? I don't think the Anglicans realise just how misdirecting is all this clutter.

Oh well. I want to get up early one day to attend the only really functioning URC church within Hull. I will also go to the Quakers. In one sense Hull Community Church 'kept quiet' and even ignored the difficulties. They just did indigestible lyrics and a minority with their hands in the air. The sermon giver there said she hadn't been to "Bible College" and didn't intend to go either. All hail ignorance.

I suppose it annoys me that so often the Unitarians have chucked the baby out with the bathwater, and then gone on to crack the bath itself and dismantle the taps. I just don't like content-free unanchored so-called spirituality. But nor do I like this clutter experienced today, nor the mismatch last week between community practicality and a recognising-the-problem content but impossible banal lyrics. I was able to sing most of the hymns at Holy Trinity - I deliberately sung some word changes! - but could not previously on my tour.

So, then, so far: none of the above, with useful discoveries and reminders.

Thursday 18 May 2017

The General Election Surprises So Far...

The background to the General Election is of course the referendum on exiting the European Union. This was that if Cameron had won and we remained, the Tory Party with its crazed right wing would have become ungovernable and even effectively split. UKIP would have campaigned on. With Cameron losing, the Tory Party stayed united and UKIP lost traction. Labour became divided instead, and needed to form policy pro Single Market later on. The Liberal Democrats had to set up stall as a remain party, build slowly, but tactically 'accept' the referendum whilst nursing the 48% remainers.

Those of us seeking to remain in the EU were waiting for negotiations to go on, and the governing Tory Party to split later on 'Single Market plus Customs Union' and 'total break' lines. The Liberal Democrats would gain traction, and the government start to lose the ability to make decisions as its majority was lost one way and the other.

Unfortunately, another of Theresa May's flip-flops was to call an early General Election. She has run the election campaign as a personal mandate (she is not on most election voting papers folks) as "strong and stable" and has been successful in banging away the mantra. Trouble is, no one in the media has challenged the number of U turns she has carried out since slipping into power. The biggest U turn of course was being Remain to now parading a UKIP style 'hard' exit from the EU. But her U turns range from the Chinese building a nuclear power station to the Budget.

However, elections can have a mind, or dynamics, of their own, and this one has a few surprises.

The first is not a surprise. It is that the Liberal Democrats have failed to gain traction. Given their main cause, it is simply too early. Their manifesto isn't a bad one, with a little imagination added in, but it is a fake. Here's why. If the Liberal Democrats won power, do we seriously think they would negotiate our removal from the EU? Of course not. We'd expect that they would stop them. This is why: the manifesto is still trying to 'accept' the referendum result; however, they should be running as if for government. The manifesto needed the balls to say that a General Election trumps a referendum, and therefore 'Vote for us and we remain'. Arguing for a referendum is for an opposition, and indeed the argument should be to learn the mistakes of a binary referendum.

The second is a surprise. It is that Theresa May, for all the pumping up she receives across the media, press and television, is wooden. She is coherent, but that is about all. She seems to believe in nothing much, other than making a land grab across the political spectrum. She seems to fly in the face of reality: the reality of the state of the NHS, the social services, education cuts and a low-wage low-productivity under-employed economy. But against this, people do fantasise; people do not vote according to self-interest (except the rich), or evidence, but according to mental values. The immigration debate has been one of these fantasies of short-cut identity. So the reality of the economic situation isn't enough to sway the vote. However, in keeping with this, the Tory Manifesto is remarkably dull, and effectively attacks its own elderly supporters, also with a big negative in policy regarding social care. The Cameron policy of social insurance was a far better prospect than this effective 'pay up' beyond a fixed figure, especially once you are dead. The children of the elderly will not be impressed. Expect an early U turn.

The third is a surprise and this is the imagination in the policy direction of the Labour Party. It is distinctive and it is positive. It means a change for the future, and one all about each looking after the other. So it has vision.
And the press and media go on and on about the apparently inadequate Corbyn, partly because (but not only because) the Members of Parliament gave an 80% vote of no confidence in the leader. But watch him. He speaks well, he is on the ball, he knows what he is talking about, and he believes in it. He looks authentic because he is authentic. Jeremy Corbyn is having a good campaign. He draws crowds where the camera angles reduce the numbers, not like Theresa May often locked away with a close-up around a tiny gathering.

Now my first choice is Liberal Democrat. I want us to remain in the European Union. This really matters for the future. It matters because it is about sharing with others like us, about liberal and democratic values, about peace and about shaping a continent. However, I am unimpressed with Tim Farron. He is coherent and he speaks well, but he doesn't have the gravitas of Ashdown, the seriousness (and deviousness) of Clegg, or the personal connection of Kennedy. He might get to be like Kennedy. There is a serious danger that Liberal Democrat seat gains will be undermined by losses, including his own seat if not careful. It is just really about the timing. It is too early, and the Liberal Democrats may have to suffer more. Their social media reach seems ineffective. Don't they know I support them?

What gets me about Labour, however, is that whilst the leadership is at least running a good social media campaign (as they must, the rest of the media is out to undermine), the social media discussions I see among its members is like a war zone. They are undermining themselves. People are saying there vote Labour despite the worst manifesto ever, the worst leader, a shambles at the top (Diane Abbott was their early example), poll ratings that will lead to devastation, and a war to come to remove Jeremy Corbyn who still will not stand down after a defeat. With supporters like these, who needs an opposition?

I'm still aware that Labour was a shambles of organisation since the Corbyn leadership. However, the campaign has been good and it is no surprise that he is picking up support. I am tempted myself, or I would be if I didn't live in East Hull. The local MP is one who would unseat Corbyn, so if I voted Labour because I liked the manifesto (and I do) my MP would be one to stage a coup with others.

Labour on the 'no deal is not better than a bad deal' has actually firmed up its option to remain in the EU: if remain is better, we remain. But it is unclear about this. Nevertheless, in power it would negotiate to come out, presumably with a better view of the single market and jobs.

Again, timing means UKIP is dying. Good riddance, maybe, but it could return later. It has a Donald Trump like leader, a sort of me-me person, childish, a fantasist, but the Tories have stolen its rhetoric and parades a few left-centrist policies (and another U turn was workers on company boards - so don't believe a word of it).

I don't believe a word Theresa May says. Nothing she says indicates what she is going to do. I take the view that all she wants is a majority that just allows her to decide one way or the other. I don't buy it that a moderate remainer (which was power-tactics anyway: she has just sought the top job) is someone who will crash the economy via a no deal. With a majority to defeat the Tory nutjobs as well as the single marketeers (if she wanted), she can choose a closer relationship with the European Union whilst coming out of voting for what policies it chooses. She won't risk Ireland (although she can be careless), and she won't risk massive failure, which is easy to achieve in wrenching ourselves out of the EU.

As said before, removing from the EU is to lose sovereignty. We will still have to obey its rules, but never go to the Council of Ministers or have representation in the European Parliament or put in Commissioners to make and monitor those rules. We will have to pay to leave and pay for its benefits, whilst they choose closer integration. Leaving the EU is simply stupid. The only problem is this. If Corbyn's imaginative manifesto and Fallon's feeble approach cannot overcome the Tory majority on its way, then we are on our way to loss of sovereignty or economic stupidity.

And here is the odd thing. Just as Blair's command of the political sphere ended in disaster (after several re-elections), so will the Tories, and quicker: a huge majority could last but one session of five years. It is bound to end in failure, in one side or the other utterly disappointed and angry, in a sense of all that and nothing achieved. Theresa May really is a nobody, with ministers who are even less; and she will command with nothing to do except fail: fail everyone or fail half. So there is hope, if we can take yet another five years of this.

Sunday 14 May 2017

A Church Visit

I made a decision that from May this year I would be free-floating in terms of religious activity. This couples with the decision to withdraw from all local Unitarian religious activity. It means I have gone from attending every week to attending no weeks on a Sunday. I still go on a Friday for social connections, to maintain a basic contact for the time being, although this is reviewable. If it proves difficult to maintain a basic contact, then I will stop it.

I have not made any commitments to keep silent about local matters, but I am not out to cause difficulty (despite an apparent reputation otherwise); the best thing would be a possible return in some years time to see a restored, healthy congregation, even if my leaving was at a time when others still there would have hung on and hung on. However, sometimes in talking about somewhere else, there are implications in the negative. I know that, and I don't know how to get around that other than to say it doesn't always follow that a positive in one place implies a negative in another. But if you want to read between the lines, do so - just remember, this is all you are doing.

The danger though is that there is something you can write and publish, and then things you can't or don't want to write in public, the result being that you say them in private; and when you say things in private one to one you know the gossip machine is then active. You then see the implication of sticking plaster all over orifices that can speak and hear and chains where you can write.

These restrictions are too great. So the only option is to try and go along a narrow, delicate line, because there are points I want to make and, frankly, with as much respect as possible I am going to make them. So here goes.

After a gap of two weeks going nowhere I went somewhere. I won't say where but anyone in the know will soon guess.

This was to an independent church. Indeed, I asked about this, and the chap I asked said there is an informal link with a church in Lincoln, but at a time when both churches had similar problems Lincoln had enough on its plate and did not want to help. So it really is independent.

Three people at the Unitarian end of things have a link with this church. One is a member and one name was quoted to me there, who is actually a Unitarian member. The other is attached to one of them, and that is probably the extent of involvement.

So what is this church? It has long been on a site of churches, and there was a Lutheran church in situ. Now it is a modern building, with an upstairs, but the main hall is a full height atrium that doubles up as a sports hall. That doubling up is in keeping with its provision as a place of practical community offerings and not just religion as a speciality. Indeed I was told how the hall was arranged for BBC Question Time held there on one occasion when it came to Hull.

Not only is the building fit for purpose, but so is the audio visual set up. So let's describe it. One the corner of two roads, the seating faces the shopping street. In front are these almost full height long windows divided into square tiles. The surrounds are coloured but the glass is not, the effect being a rainbow arc. The windows colouring is made by the large tree close outside, the sky and buildings. Above these long windows is long across windowing in the shape of an arc. So there is light in the place. It was the local authority who demanded the long windows. Only once did the screen projection look a little washed out. The rest of the time it was fine.

The attendance went over sixty as the service started, and late comers and others put the number to 70. It was not full. Three times as many with extra seats could have attended comfortably. There are no hymn books, and only 'Red Letter Day' papers like envelope size with pens to write after the sermon how God had helped you at some time. They had been left under the seats.

Facing the windows, then, was a stage on which the "MC", one of the four leaders (two married couples) stood. Either side of him were speakers, and at the far edges two hefty speakers. The screen was high up with a fixed projector on a long pole. The projection was accurate.

To my left (I was by a centre aisle) at the front row was about four people with one directly working the visual display. This included relevant pictures, biblical quotes and the song/ hymn lyrics that were repetitive and even banal. The only theology in them was a Jesus-unitarianism in the face of human sin. No Charles Wesley equivalent at all! To my left as well was a band that involved one of the four leaders: he led most of the worship from there with his guitar. His wife did the sermon. Everyone was very informally dressed. I'd say they were in their forties. They are all included in the seventy number. So was the chap behind me in a kind of reception area. When I dropped these red papers, he jumped in to pick them up.

The ethnic mix was good: Black African and Caribbean, South East Asian, and quite a few children about. There may have been others elsewhere - if so, that's on top of the seventy.

Now to me the audio-visual fundamentals were in place, and it did make me a bit annoyed. This was smooth and supporting, and the volume level was never loud despite power. I once set up an audio system with the same result, although mine was stereo from the back as well as front.

The MC said the service would start in two minutes, and it started with notices repeated on the screen. He asked who were exiles into Hull (a good minority) and made loose references to ransomware (he was wrong: it was not an attack on the NHS), mental health and then mentioned Jesus as the light of the world. The worship leader then came in with quiet guitar merging into a song and then his brief talk how God helped him and then another - Amazing Grace with additions.

Then there were three testimonies, including a chap know to get things going, and a recovering alcoholic. This was followed by an unintended song, but found to go on screen.

The collection was followed by a sermon given by one of the women of the four. She spoke of her own doubts and faith, once reading a book that gave logical atheism and this took a long time to shake off. Her faith was restored by a retreat at Whitby. Three years she's been leading. She used C S Lewis to talk about the practice of faith to result in the habit of faith. She mentioned people who think Jesus didn't exist and was only myth and legend. Never 100% convinced, the church aimed to be practical and direct, not theological, and make outsiders welcome. Referring to the 'Dark night of the soul' often experienced by the long-term believer, she moved on to Hebrews 10:32-36 and asked people to fill in Red Letter Day slips that stated how God had helped them, some of which were put on the wall by their writers. She also wondered how she had become a leader, with her husband, having never been to "Bible College" (I said later I noticed she said this, and not theological college or seminary) and she told me she's not going either.

After that came a song and end prayer, and it all lasted about an hour and a quarter. This was followed by chat with tea and coffee and water from thermos flask type distributors (there is a cafe or seating area: I was surprised people didn't move over there).

So a chap described me as "a theological Jeremy Corbyn" so I asked if the words were not "Theological Theresa May". When he said he admired Calvin and Luther, I said I don't and that they were "thugs" - Calvin a killer and Luther an antisemite. He said yes the people you uphold as saints are mixed. I said Servetus, who was killed by Calvin, was an idiot and full of his own ego. He was more an off-beam trinitarian than unitarian, I said. To someone else I was misinterpreted as wanting to join a home group, and I think it was deliberate misinterpretation. I said how I could not join in with the words as they were not my theology, despite the informality and practicality. The first chap said they are biblical even after he said they were "liberal". He meant liberal in a social sense, and practical. (I do not know if they are inclusive in the more contentious areas: I rather doubt it, but there is a strong sense of interfaith co-operation).

Although I did fill in a contact card - see, they are on the ball - the fact is that the church is not there for people like me. It is there for the ordinary folk around the city, not theological anoraks. Although not dogmatic - and no Lord's Prayer, no statements of doctrine, and brief if more meaningful prayers for believers - the songs were down a narrow line that did encourage a few to put their hands up in the air.

As well as giving contact advice, I was via misinterpretation given a card for when house groups meet, and there is one for newcomers meeting one time. I know someone who called it "Bible Class" and indeed I was told this morning this is the basis of the home groups. Nevertheless home groups are the method of integrating people into churches. Thus church also has an 'urban retreat' for contemplative prayer and it has help for the unemployed, debt advice and similar urban life difficulties. It has kids and youth club.

It is not the place for me, but it does things well. It has them sorted out, it seems to me, and the basics are working foundations. This means, principally, an audio-visual system, good light and space, disabled simply included, people on the look out, smooth presentation even when informal, coherence, and cards. The cards cover the basic service, home groups, next step home group (singular) (presumably for newbies), the urban retreat, and the various age-group gatherings and when. Plus there is the contact form to fill in on paper. Every church should have these, regardless. To me, the cards and the audio-visual are priorities, and so is professional and smooth delivery. You do not need orders of service or even announcing all the way along: just do it and have the preplanning that everyone presenting knows what is coming along.

This church is near one also in a student area that I would not touch with a bargepole. It is Reform Anglican Evangelical, and is fighting an internal holy war within Anglicanism via its obnoxious ethics. So that one is not on my list, but there was much positive in my visit to this independent church, independent in a contemporary sense and not historical. But it is Reformation.