Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Daily Devotional 22 February 2012

Daily Devotional - Morning

At the start of day or before you start work, perhaps you might like to join in with these thoughts and prayers. If you do, find a quiet place, take time to be calm and centred; focus on the still small voice of calm within, finding a sacred space amidst the noise of the world.

Spirit of Community, in which we share and find strength and common purpose, we turn out minds and hearts towards one another seeking to bring into our circle of concern all who need our love and support. Remind us that we are all part of a web of life, that makes us one with the you and with each other.

As we start our busy working day, may we find the grace to see the Divine image reflected in all those people who we will meet this day; may we find the strength to always bear a loving witness and to do what we know is right.

Perhaps you might like to pause here for your own private prayers and thoughts for yourself and for others; for situations around world or people and places only known to you.

Welcoming and vulnerable God, whose outrageous love embraces all of creation and challenges us to our foundation, dwell in our crowded hearts, our steaming bathrooms, messy kitchens, and offices full of things to be done. Shake us from our complacency into action, as we venture our lives courageously towards hope and light, at once fragile, and rooted. Amen.

After work, or at the end of the day

Perhaps you might like to join with these or similar words, if you feel able, at the end of the working day or before sleep.

Blessed spirit of life we give thanks for this day and all that it held; all those people we met and situations we encountered. Faces in the street and in the work place, friends yet to be rather than strangers. May we be thankful.

If you feel able, you might like to use these words in your personal devotion, or use them as inspiration for your own thoughts, prayer or meditation.

As our work ends and the daylight fades, may we confess our shortcomings and give thanks for all that we have achieved; for all that is good and for all that we have, rather than strive for what we think we need.

You might like to close your devotion with either or both of the following.

God, who is the mystery around us, the spirit within us, and the love between us, help us to know you, to know you more with every breath we take, with every pulse of our blood’s circulation, with every glimpse of your essence, as the essence of all things.

May we, in the silence of the night, rest easy and feel restored when the morning light breaks. Amen.

Monday, 20 February 2012

A prayer for Splodge

I have loved you from the day you came into my life,
and now it is time for me to let you go.
You taught me how the universe is founded upon love;
you were shown love and responded the only the only way you knew how.
With love.
My the measure of that love be reflected in the ocean of tears shed for you.
I could not watch you suffer,
I could not see you in pain.
Now you are free.
Your body is no longer sick,
or weak, or hurting.
Now you can run with the others,
playing and hunting as wild things do.
Because I loved you,
I had to let you go.
You will live forever in my heart.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Joseph Hanson

Joseph Hanson (1774-1811) was a Unitarian, political Radical and so-called 'Weaver's Friend', who through his short life was persecuted for his faith and politics by the 'powers that be'. I'm sure there is a sermon in here somehwere. The more one reads about Unitarians in the Napoleonic Period the more one admires them for holding to their faith and principles amidst persecution (especially since to hold the Unitarian view point was illegal and punishable by hanging until 1813).

Anyway, enjoy this:

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Faith and Belief

Some would say that  faith is the same as belief.  But that’s a mistake.  It’s a mistake the church has made, along with other religions.  It led to a situation where belief became a test of faith; and there were dire consequences for those who failed the test by not believing the right things.  They were subjected to the cruellest torture, and then consigned to eternal damnation if they didn’t change their minds.
This conflation of faith and belief has caused religious chaos across the whole world.  It resulted in pogroms, crusades and many forms of religious extremism, including the latest manifestation of suicide bombers.
So faith needs to be seen as much more than just belief.  Belief is an intellectual activity of the mind: faith is a commitment of the heart.  Faith is better understood in terms of TRUST; and so there will always be an element of risk about it, rather than certainty.

If you have faith in someone, you don’t just believe in their existence, you trust them.  You trust that they will be true to themselves, and live up to the highest claims their own conscience makes upon them.
Faith is a creative energy or power.  It creates relationships.  First of all, it invites you into a relationship with yourself (or rather with your Better Self).  Faith will encourage you to believe in yourself and trust yourself; and even to love yourself, because love is the highest form of this relationship.
Having found a healthy and wholesome relationship with yourself, you will then want to reach out to include others: and this will eventually lead you into the experience of being embraced by the love of the universal Other, that we call God.

Faith is not saying that you believe in the existence of someone called God (as if that would make any difference!).  Nor is it saying that you believe in any so-called ‘statements of faith’.
Faith is not a statement: it’s a commitment – trusting that in spite of all, life has meaning and purpose.  Faith means taking a risk, and living in the light of it; loving yourself and loving others; and as a result, experiencing the love of God who, it seems, is also trusting us to be true to ourselves.                                                                                                   

We are not worthy?

In the gym the other day, whilst doing a 5K metre row -  my favourite/usual place for finding inspiration (perhaps due to increased blood flow to the brain) I started to ponder on the effect of the notion of "Original Sin" on society.

This notion of "You/We are not worthy" is all pervavise: Advertising hoardings shout it in 20 foot high letters "To be worthy look like us/belike us/have this stuff " As though somehow we as people are incomplete and not worthy unless we have a six pack, a new car and the lastest shiny stuff. The Church does the same thing. In the Book of Common Prayer is the line "We are not worthy even to pick up a crumb from under your table." We are all "miserable sinners". Imperfect, not good enough, not worthy. Its all around us! Negativity in = negativity out.

No wonder people have low self esteem! No wonder people think they find happiness from the latest shiny things and hair do.

But yet.....but yet is the latest hair do and having the newest and most "stuff" actually healthy? Is the assertion of the BCP healthy? I dont think so. It tells us that we are somehow, fundementally flawed, flawed by our very nature of our being and only by the ministrations of the church or commercialism can we be saved and be happy.

As  Unitartian, of course, I do not believe in "Original Sin". I believe in Original Blessing. Adam and Eve are jsut a story, like a Kipling "Just-So" story, written at a point in history to explain not literally but in stories and metaphor, why things are the way they are. They are not true nor literal accounts.  That is not to say Sin does not exist. Unitarians and other liberals tend to run away from that word and find it unfashionable. But I think this concept of Sin - literally all that which gets between us and God and ourselves - is important. Whilst Orthodox Christians would suggest that pride is a bad thing - to Catholics a Cardinal Sin - being proud of  yourself, having high self esteem is healthy, but not at the expense of others. To my mind, SIn is best summed up by Terry Pratchett who, through Granny Wetherwax says "There are no shades of grey. when you treat others like things". And by extension I would add "yourself". Thus, treating yourself as a thing - as unworthy, as only being happy and fulfilled with the latest clothes and gadget is Sin. Why? Because it blocks out original blessing- the inbuilt capability and capacity within all human beings to be Christ-like. All that "stuff"gets in the way of being ourselves, being truly who we are. We spsend more time striving to be someone else, dreaming, wishing, hoping to be someone else rather than getting to know and love ourselves for the beautiful, fulfilled people we are.

Roger Grainger on Gays and Christianity

Roger quoted the passage where St Paul has his vision, on the temple roof or mountain top and hears that God is Love and all the old laws have passed away.

In his book "The Holy Orafice" Roger describes how OT Jewish Law had very unhealthy/obsessed views with sex - ie some of the wierder stuff in there - but that as Christians we are freed from the laws of Moses and Leviticus to live under new laws, primarily that of Love. St Paul is the major source for Christian morality in the NT - letters to Rome, Corinth etc - but as he had cultural conditioning toward or against various issues (eg homosexuality etc) of course he would say bad things. Indeed, he uses the phrase "Arsen Koitus" - which isnt even Greek, its slang greek and a slang term which meens "anal sex" or "men who have anal sex" in its proper translation but is probably NT slang for "puff". St Paul was of the mind that Gay people chose to be gay - everyone is straigh in his thinking and one choses to be gay. We now know it is more complicated than that!

Jesus Saves – but not like a Computer

So often one sees the words “ Jesus Saves” bandered about, and like the cynic I am, cannot resist adding “with the Pru” or “ but not as good as Wilkinson”. Or whatever pop reference I can come up with.

Many people see Jesus as being the equivalent of a religious Life Boat – literally dragging us, coughing, spluttering, from drowning in our own “sea of sin and iniquity”. Jesus as a life saver. A rescuer. Maybe he is. Maybe he isn't.

But what does the word “Salvation” or “save” in this context mean? Salvation is taken from the Latin salvere meaning “to find wholeness”. In other words, Jesus doesn't save like a goal keeper or a computer programme, saves us from deletion; he's not like the computer in the Dr Who episode 'Silence in the Library'. Instead, he brings us wholeness. Brings a sense of oneness, oneness not only with ourselves but with each other and with God.

Easter Ramblings

Many people have asked me, what is it that I, a Unitarian, believe, and, because we do not hold with a belief in the Holy Trinity, what do we do about Christmas, and, more fundamentally, Easter?

Well, traditionally, Unitarians have never had a problem with Easter; it is only in the past 30 or so years that it has become the vogue to dismiss Easter as, well, “too Christian” and therefore somehow not inclusive enough. Perhaps, Easter is, well, a bit uncomfortable for us as well. It’ easy to adopt the view held by James Martineau that reason is the seat of all authority. Using his logic, therefore, Easter as being miraculous and not conforming to the known laws of nature and science can be dismissed as being superstitious and un-reasonable. When you are dead, you stay dead, that much we can observe and know. But perhaps, perhaps, there is more to Life, the Universe and Everything than what is empirically observable and deemed to be rational. I believe that Life, the Universe and Everything is far more complicated than we give it credit; we as humans fear change and crave control and understanding. By subjecting Life the Universe and Everything to laws and observation in some way we can control and understand it, and that makes us feel safe, comfortable. The problem then is, what do we do when Life, the Universe and Everything doesn’t correspond to our laws and comfort zones? 

On the Trinity

Inspired by some postings on the UK  Methodist Facebook group.

The Unitarian and emphasis on the Unipesonality of God traditionally is said to "...completely contradict Christian orthodoxy, which affirms three divine Persons, yet one God." Except that hypostasis=persona does NOT mean Person in the way we would understand the word. There is a very fine line between trinitarianism and tritheism. It has rightly been said that it is impossible to preach on the Trinity without committing heresy. My reading of the Hebrew texts leads me to affirm the Oneness of God much more than the subsequent reflections of the Greek and Latin Fathers.

 "I don't think we can stop at the Hebrew scriptures when talking about the Trinity." Of course not. But they are pat of the darta, and part of the process by which God has revealed himself. The thing for me is what lies behind the text: the Hebrew mind seems to be more poetic, able to hold different themes, almost like different themes in a symphony, while the Greek mind is more mathematical, algebraic, needing to resolve the tensions until a conclusion is reached. That's why the Hebrews produced prophets and psalmists, while the Greeks produced philosophers. When contemplating the nature of God, poetry is more use than philosophy; the Trinity is a true mystery, and resolving it always loses something. God is One. He has been known in three entities, which have been labelled as hypostasis (literally 'mask' or 'face') - orthodoxy has taken a particular set of dogmatic resolutions from that, rejecting such things as Modalism which was just as logical a deduction. The point is that any resolution poses as many problems as it solves, because we are dealing with the mystery of divinity.

 My problem- and I think that of many others too -  is that I have read and heard so much which tries to argue that the Trinity is what God is, as if that gives us a dogmatic box in which to contain him. I cannot buy that, especially when most of the credal statements of the Early Church are written in a language which is not mine and makes philosophical assumptions I don't share. I do not dismiss the Trinity - essentially, it's the best analysis of the biblical experience of God as Father, Son and Spirit - but it feels more to me like a handle by which we grasp the mystery. God is certainly more than the formula can contain. The best explanation of 'Trinity' I can offer is as a way of understanding God and understanding knowledge, awareness and relationship with God and the self:

God the Fatherr = God as Creator; God as "wow"; the all pervasive God in Creation
God the Son = God revealed through human beings, through the writing of prophetic men and women, artists and scientists. God in you and me.
God the Spirit = the inner,"still small voice of calm"; the concscience; the personal God the "inner light" of George Fox.

 Not many of us really understand the Nicene language and concepts (did they?) - I think we're better off handling our theology in an impressionistic way than a pointilist or realist way, if you see what I mean. Nigel is quite right in arguing that there are boundaries - Methodism IS a Trinitarian church, and has established certain doctrinal standards, which means if anyone wants to join the church as a member, they have to sign up to those standards. But the standards are pretty broad, and allow for a great deal of variety within those standards (we include everything from fundamentalist literalists to high Wesleyan sacramentalists and progressive liberals); we also welcome as friends and fellow-worshippers many who do not fit within those standards. The important thing is that we journey together into a closer walk with God - which may or may not mean a deeper understanding! The Kingdom of God is not about doctrinal orthodoxy. God cannot be summed up in a nice set of officially authoriased words. It is about how we live - a way of life - and, more importantly, how we love.

Christmas Musings

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
We usually think of the Christmas Tree being a Victorian invention, being introduced by Prince Albert from his native Germany c.1840. The Christmas Tree, however, has a longer and far more meaningful history than that, however, one linked with education reform, Abolition and the reinvention of Christmas by a religious denomination who saw Christmas not as the birth of the Son of God but as a family-centred holiday to focus on family and community.

Epiphany Address, Westgate Chapel, Wakefield 15-1-2012

This time of year is called Epiphany, from the Greek meaning ‘striking or sudden appearance or manifestation’. In the Church, Epiphany is when the Magi presented their gifts to the infant Jesus and had the sudden ‘realisation’ or Eureka-moment that there, in that baby, was Emmanuel – God with us. The Word made Flesh. The distant and unknowable made knowable, the unseen made visible. God revealed to us as and through humanity.

 No matter your theological views on Jesus, the fundamental revelation still exists – God revealed as and through a human being, like you and I. The Word made Flesh, not as with the Old Testament covenants, the Word made Words on Tablets of Stone or Purity Codes, but the Word made flesh. But how often have we forgotten that the Word became Flesh! How many times do mainstream churches forget this in their fetishisation of the Bible?  As the hymn writer says, “The Lord has yet more light and love to shed forth from his word.” God didn’t stop speaking with the Bible. Because of the Word made Flesh, God is revealed through people like you and me. That’s scary isn’t it? It’s challenging. It’s dynamic. No wonder we seek the security of “Thou Shalt Not”. God is still speaking through the words and deeds of prophetic men and women, through all the arts and sciences, and above all, in that personal, “still small voice of calm” that we may all experience.

Sanguinary words from the past...

Rev T Hincks, at his Induction at Upper Chapel, Sheffield. January 1852 said

“I have always felt…we must have the general cooperation of the members; that we must have members not merely nominally connected with us, but engage them doing something connected…With every man standing upon his own private judgement, and claiming the liberty to carry out his own ideas in his own peculiar way, it is difficult to get harmony amongst us for common work, so terribly independent we are. If we could merge our own individual peculiarities for the sake of forming one compact body that shall work for the common good, we should remove one of the greatest difficulties that we now have to attend with. If we are to work as a Christian body, we must, on points not of vital consequence, lay aside some of our individuality. We must rise higher for the sake of common good, and for the peace, and harmony and power of the church, we must fall in with the rest, and contribute what gifts we have to the work of the whole. The right of Private Judgement was a glorious thing in its place, but now it becomes almost a nuisance amongst us, so much does it interfere with other members and the common good…I wish that our church should become a church professing Gospel Christianity rather than theologies – a church whose all-sufficient creed is the Christ of the Gospels, and its test of discipleship harmony with the life and spirit of the Great Master- that it should be a church of Free Thought, unfettered by formularities – a church in which the doubter whose affections and aspirations are yet Christian, but whose understanding is troubled with speculative difficulties, may find shelter and nourishment for his religious nature, and not be met with an anathema; that it should be a church of Catholic sympathies – a church ready to welcome the True and Good, wherever found, rejoicing to discover points of union between itself and the great Christian commonwealth; and lastly that it be a church of Good Works – a church not content to remain unmoved amongst prevailing sin – a church not practically repudiating the example of the good Samaritan – a church…which grows and spreads amongst us, a church whose members feel the duty which membership lays upon them and shall be willing to contribute their gifts and talents to increase its power and efficiency; in one word a church which shall nourish. A church which shall nourish well the religious life of all its members – that shall welcome all earnest free thinkers…a church that shall be devoted by its constitution to teaching the gospel to the poor and carrying the influence of holy religious to the afflicted and outcast. That is my conception of a church ought to be that dares call itself Christian.”

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 22 January 1852.