Monday, 19 December 2011

Occupy- Mass Sing Up!

Well I am now a member of the Occupy Choir! I will be singing on the steps of St Paul's on 21st December between 6.30pm and 7.30pm as part of a mass "sing-up". The rehearsal took place in an abandoned building owned by UBS which is known as the bank of ideas. It was quite an odd rehersal space. It was like visiting the set of a film in a dystopian future in which society is disintegrating. I can see why some of the protesters style themselves as the character from "V for Vendetta". Most of the songs we hope to sing are taken from oppressed people around the world including the African American spirituals "Children Don't Get Weary" and "Find The Cost Of Freedom". There are also the songs that were popular from the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s such as "Azikatale namojaya boshwa ze ze mitze linke loule ko" which means "we do not care if we go to prison, it is for freedom we are fighting now". Fortunately I do not have to think to hard about whether I can sing that with conviction living in a liberal democracy, but it is appropriate to evoke the spirit of people who are struggling across the world struggling against economic oppression. Some of the more secular leftists I sing with are a little jittery that we appear to be singing even "mildly Christian" songs but the choir facilitator told us the story of how she went on a trip to Bosnia to get a cross-community choir to sing a song uniting Christians, Muslims and Jews who had previously been in conflict. She described the act as "subverting religion to use as a force for good". I quite agree! :)

Well, when I am out singing on Wednesday evening I expect it will be cold so renewed respect for the people camping out every night in London and the other occupy locations. You think you know these old Christmas songs, but as time goes on I find that this one by Jona Lewie is not so much about warfare as the human state!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Take Rest

We all have ways of finding rest and recovery. Some people know exactly what to do to help their minds and bodies relax. For others it takes a while to work out how to settle and it's not always in the same way. 
   In an art class I attended where we were asked to express different words. One young man chose the word 'relaxation' and created a wreath of dried leaves, suggesting that kicking through autumn leaves was his way of relaxing. The tutor was surprised; he was expecting an artwork related to meditation, or perhaps a hot bath! Resting the mind may not require the same actions as resting the body. However, it is vital - if we are to maintain a balance in our lives - for us to have a chance to recharge the batteries of the soul. 
   I like this quotation by Ovid 'Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.' and I am sure we have all had times when we have been rushing from one thing to another without a chance to stand still. We know, in those snatched moments of clarity, that it won't be long before the lack, of sleep, of slowing down, will affect the way we do things. No-one can 'run on empty' forever.
   'Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.' May we be fertile fields, rested and ready to produce our bounty.
   I realise my own ways of resting and relaxing all include an element of conscious action; whether it is drawing buildings in London or walking in countryside, the act of noticing my surroundings and feeling fully connected to them allows my mind to rest and my soul to be at peace. 
   There is a Chinese Proverb which says 'Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.' 

   Spirit of Life and Love, help us to recharge the batteries of the soul this weekend, and to find those quiet moments of peace throughout the coming week. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

The News From Nowhere

I saw a quote by Alan Bennett on the tube yesterday about how when you read something that is a true expression of what you feel it is as if a hand is been held out to you......

Concerning Love: Chapter XI

So we shake off these griefs in a way which perhaps the sentimentalists of other times would think contemptible and unheroic, but which we think necessary and manlike. As on the other hand therefore we have ceased to be commercial in our love matters, so also we have ceased to be artificially foolish. The folly which comes by nature, the unwisdom of the immature man, or the older man caught in a trap, we must put up with that, nor are we much ashamed of it.; but to be concentionally sensitive or sentimental- my friend I am old and disappointed but at least I think we have cast off some of the follies of the older world.
(William Morris)

Or as Rev Jim Robinson says:

There is a proverb which goes, "you cannot get enough of what you don't really need." If we were driven to need more sex, more money, more control., more chocolate, more anything in order to be happy then we will never be able to get enough of it. We will destroy lives in a frantic effort to get more and more of what cannot make us happy. Fortunately, (sooner or later) our bad habits inevitably meet the midnight hour. When our house of cards collapses, when we no longer avoid the pain in our shadow, when our obsessions reveal themselves as the dysfunctions the are, then we have a chance to do something different. We may discover a happiness which is not grandiose or addictive but arises from spiritual understanding.

Monday, 21 November 2011

"It's me or Jesus"

Well this one came up sooner than I thought!

Dear Anxious Anglican,

No names will be used here and because what I know about your situation is light on specifics I can only go through what I imagine to be a number of different angles. I suspect you are far from alone. All I really know is that you are married to a husband  who resents your commitment to Jesus so much that he has made an ultimatum- choose Jesus or me. In desperation you have come the way of the Quakers and our liberal faith in search of a way of connecting with God that does not alienate him. Perhaps we can help, but I am not sure.
I can only hope that the route of this problem is that the man in your life is a "big softie" like me.You mentioned your love of the Anglican liturgy. I have to say it did not really work for me although I appreciate beautiful liturgy and meaningful services so long a they are accompanied by Ira Gershwin's pinch of salt. Maybe like Jude in the Thomas Hardy novel and Bertrand Russell it aggravates his laudable sensitivities to see you seemingly berating yourself for being a "miserable sinner" every week. And all that about there being a "narrow path" which apparently casts him as a doomed heretic in need of your outreach. I can well imagine how a sensitive man might respond to this. And I know how pushy some less liberal Anglicans can be when it comes to giving which is bound to be problematic for couples of mixed religious backgrounds, particularly in a time of recession. 5% to 10% of your disposable household income? Forget it. All we ask for is what you can spare and rightly so. By analogy, a woman might reasonably ask a man to curb his passion for football if he comes back from an away loss having lost sight of the spirit of the "beautiful game".
However, to confront you with an ultimatum like this is alarming. Why does he feel so compelled to curb a passion and an interest within you. If he were truly a humanist he would acknowledge your human need for a sense of connection, intellectual stimulation and the psychosematic benefits of prayer and singing to be found in an Anglican service. Instead he appears to be resorting to emotional blackmail to keep you to himself. I do not want to alarm you but a good friend of mine was nearly killed by an abusive partner who scalped her by setting her head of hair alight. This behaviour begins with "if you loved me you would...", "it is either me or (something or someone precious to you)" and "how can you be so selfish abandoning me, what about my needs".
Don't forget that the right to free religious expression is there in the United Nations charter of fundamental rights for a reason and your rights are not eroded once you part of a married couple. Do not be confused by the idea that Christianity is ultimately about love and the seriousness of the vows you have taken. If as I fear you are in an abusive relationship and any suggestion of professional help is dismissed, then when the time is right you need to call his bluff and assert whatever religious affiliation seems right for you as an essential part of what you are. Everyone, from the most conservative believer in "sanctity of marriage" to DH Lawrence would agree that you are doing the right thing. If you suffer the fallout then your religious friends will consider it their duty to assist you.

All the very best,

You know where to find us.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Zola's Germinal- Part VI

Father Ranvier tries to reach out to the striking miners.....
"Listening to him La Maheuda heard echos of Etienne's voice, when he had sat up late at night during the autumn, announcing the imminent end to all of their problems. But she had never trusted a man in a cassock.
"That's all very well, the way you tell it Father", she said, but it's only because you don't get on with the bourgeois .. All our other vicars used to dine with the manager, and threaten us with hell fire as soon as we asked for bread".
He continued the argument, speaking of the deplorable misunderstanding that had arisen between the Church and the people. Now in veiled phrases he attacked the city priests, bishops and ecclesiastical dignitaries who were bloated with pleasure and sated with power, supported by the liberal bourgeoisie in their imbecile blindness, not realising that it was the same bourgeoisie that deprived them of their influence in the world. Deliverance would come from the country priests, who would all rise up together to re-establish the kingdom of  Christ, with the aid of the poor; he seemed already to see himself at their head, and straightening his bony back as if he were an outlaw chief, or an evangelical revolutionary, his eyes filled with the light that they lit up the dark room around him. He was carried away by his own ardent preaching in a spate of mystical language, which the poor folk had long since given up trying to grasp.
"We don't need all those words" Maheu grumbled roughly. "You had better start by bringing us some bread""

So this OLSX thing. Take it from Zola, we've been there before....
1) "Godless lefties" will not come to us. We are out primarily to "indoctrinate" them with "false consciousness" and make them feel bad about sex remember!
2) Even an encyclopedic knowledge of Monty Python's "The Life Of Brian" does not cut as much ice as it used to. What you know about Isiah, Amos and Judas Maccabeus... all in good time Rev!
3) Follow Linda Hart et al's example and bring cake!

See you at St Paul's and on the picket lines on 30th November!
Consider this a shot across the bows Cranmer. This reformation will be on the blogosphere.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Passive Resistance

Apologies for the unusually disturbing image! When I first read that monks in Tibet were immolating themselves in protest against what the Dalai Lama describes as "cultural genocide" I was shocked and disturbed. Seen through the lense of Richard Dawkins' critique, actions like this appear to blur the distinction between a peaceful and humane religion and the worst excesses of suicide cultism. The imagery of burning appears frequently in Buddhism and Hinduism as a symbol of the impermanence of all things.
As a child growing up in Manchester I have memories of running away from IRA bomb threats with my mother during the Christmas shopping season. Perhaps there are analogies between the Tibetan Buddhist's struggle against the onslaught of the Chinese state's philistinism and the "leftish" nationalism and Roman Catholic identity politics that led to my home city being bombed in 1996. Would we feel differently about the IRA if they had taken the route of passive resistance, advocated by Ghandi? (Bobby Sands springs to mind). In the end I am heartened that no one in Unitarianism would want anyone to be a martyr- I am sure Norbert Capek in particular would agree. But there is a time to demonstrate peacefully and resist passively. In some extreme scenario, which I hope never to see in this country, there might even be a case for armed struggle. Looking at the comforting words of an old sermon, "it is not always easy to practice kindness. What happens if a person is treating us badly? Are we supposed to be kind and just take it like a martyr? Of course not, we have every right to set boundaries - to practice what is sometimes called tough love. The important thing is that out intention is to encourage human dignity for everyone whether we are practising soft love or tough love".  

On a related point it is with great reluctance that I will be joining other public sector workers in strike action on 30th November. As the Minister for Communities and Local Government said recently, "the big society is not all sitting on bean bags and singing Kum-Bah Yah. It is red in tooth and claw". Quite! You've sort of done the job for me there Mr Pickles.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Ruskin In The Guardian

Just a quick one to post the link to this Guardian article by David Barnes. It is like the article I wanted to write myself but for various reasons stopped short of. There are some comments about anti-semitism at the bottom from someone who seems to know there stuff which I would also point out.

There was also an article on John O'Farrell's Newsbiscuit which made me laugh. I feel sorry for whoever that was aimed at! I suppose an occupational hazard of being a liberal do-gooder is being easy to lampoon and Ruskin undoubtedly had his fair share of that- to be fair Tom Hollander did not play him that unsympathetically. As Ian Hislop said in "The Age Of The Do-Gooders", "they are easy to mock and as a satirist I will not fail to do so, but I also take my hat off to them".

So I will take that as a green light. One thundering voice coming up!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Wealth and Wisdom

Victor Meldrew picking up the phone...

"Hello. What?.... No I don't want to subscribe to Which?"

I have only recently realised that David Renwick's character Victor Meldrew, consumed by his personal war with the brutality and short sightedness of the modern world might have been missing a trick. I had Which? magazine all wrong. I had wrongly assumed Which? was a product of the 1980s obsession with misguided consumer "empowerment" that stemmed from the privatisation of public utilities. Instead it was founded in good old Bethnal Green by a man called Michael Young who had the far sighted idea of producing objective advice to consumers as an antidote to "consumer culture".

In my youth I took a dim view of middle-class "penny pinchers" who took a pious view of how thrifty they were without having really experiencing poverty and maintaining a sense of entitlement to the wealth they did have. To an extent a misguided application of liberal (as opposed to radical) feminism might explain why skills of household management might have been lost. Expectations concerning control of household expenditure and finance in heterosexual relationships can be highly "gendered"- although this need not be the case.

Fairly recently I "rubber-necked" at a Diwali celebration in Trafalgar square and was interested to hear how in Hinduism there is an emphasis on the combination of wealth with wisdom. I know George Orwell characterised Eastern religions as "death worship" but I think he might have had the same concerns/layman's prejudices I had about the caste system. As "religious types" are often characterised as unworldly people it is interesting to think that even my trip to the shops might be an opportunity for spiritual practice. Informed consumption by those of us with resources to spare might be the answer to many of the world's problems as well as our own.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Horray for Giles Fraser!

Now don't get me wrong! Some of my best friends work in the City of London and some of them were more committed Christians or for that matter supporters of the Labour movement than I ever was as a student. Can you throw the money changers out of the temple and then ask them for corporate social responsibility and philanthropy? In any case what is quite surprising is the variety of unlikely sympathisers that the St Paul's occupation has gathered. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times for instance has acknowledged that "the left does not know how to replace the market. But pro-marketeers need to take the protests seriously". So when I heard the news about Giles Fraser's resignation I thought I would throw my two-pennyworth in. Althougn everyone is welcome to speak their truth with love, part of the attraction of Unitarianism for me is the historical link between rational dissent and the radical cause of social justice. Examples include the Rev John Trevor and his establishing of the Labour Church. Imagine a church where the Hymns were written by William Morris!
Because of this I have been motivated to get singing outside of chapel with a political group. I might well swing by the camp at St Paul's where I can. If they do turn the sprinklers on them, perhaps I will show up with a towel in hand?
Giles Fraser's stand does indeed echo the story of Oscar Romero, another advocate of liberation theology and non-violent protest. "The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work". Even in socialist utopia the skills of good bankers will be necessary to run social investment boards, credit unions and mutuals. So it is not about "banker bashing" per se. If that sounds hopelessly idealistic, then it is not for nothing that William Morris called his book the "News from Nowhere". Socialist Utopia has also gone by the name "Christian Commonwealth" or should you care to go back that far "The New Jerusalem".
Giles- there are many Christian Socialists in the good old CofE. But if like me you reluctantly find there is no compromising with the other wing of your church.... you know where to find us!

Interesting times friends. It's good to be back!:)