Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Manhattan Project

Conservative Anglican blogger Cranmer has highlighted a new initiative – the Manhattan Declaration, of which he remarks, possibly somewhat tongue-in-cheek…

Perhaps, just perhaps, this declaration might one day be ranked with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, or at least raise Manhattan to the equivalent historic significance to that of Boston.

And what does this historic document declare?

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.

To which it is tempting to reply: if only!

Continued at UKSpirituality

Monday, December 7, 2009

Amanda Knox and the Power of Projection

By far the best article I have read on the Meredith Kercher murder.

Like most of you, I'm sure, I've been stunned by the verdict against Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy, and trying to gauge its accuracy. I've also been coming up with many questions about the trial and the Knox family's repeated statements of their daughter's innocence. As several commentators have pointed out, we seem to have watched not only two Amanda Knoxes on trial, but two different portraits of an American college student. Her closest friends insisted last night, on CNN, that Amanda is the least violent person they've ever met. The Italian media and prosecution insist, by contrast, that she's nothing short of a "she-devil," nymphomaniac, and a participant in satanic rites.

Continued at Psychology Today.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Public and private

I’ve been following a recent thread on the excellent Pickled Politics which discusses Sharia Finance. “Persephone”, the poster, quite rightly flags up the theoretical advantages of a system that seeks to minimise usury; that could, in principal, become a kind of financial “Fairtrade”.

I don’t want to get in to the pros and cons of Sharia Finance, which are discussed at length in the original post. What interests me is how faith can cross the boundary between private and public...

Continued at UKSpirituality

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In retreat

I want to shave all my hair off and enter a monastery, or at least go on a retreat, or at least shave off all my hair. The hair thing feels quite important – perhaps it’s having been raised on Kung Fu – although I’m less sold on the monastery (that would actually mean having to sign up to some kind of dogma, right?). Are there Unitarian retreats? I’m looking for something upon a mountainside…

Continued at UKSpirituality

Friday, November 13, 2009


Watching the footage of the latest pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran, I meditated on the nature of bravery.

Despite the shootings, show trials, the two hundred who remain behind bars, the beatings, rapes, “ring leaders” sentenced to death, some brave souls continue to demonstrate...

Continued at UKSpirituality

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Revenger's Tragedy

On my journey to work I read some Schopenhauer to assuage my feelings of revenge. Arthur, who himself was conned out of a considerable income, writes:

When he suffers an injustice the natural man burns with a thirst for revenge, and it has often been said that revenge is sweet.

Ah, yes, I can certainly relate to that, having been conned out of my pension pot by an unscrupulous property company...

Continued at UKSpirituality

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Take me back to Chester

To many secular, non-Christians the current controversy over Pope Benedict’s “poaching” of conservative Anglicans may have succeeded in putting the mysticism back in to Christianity… in so much as it’s all pretty mystifying.

The sight of poor Rowan Williams torn spiritually asunder at the hurried press conference in response to the move was sad to see. He must have wondered if all the ecumenism of recent decades was just a bluff and the Catholic Church had simply been biding it’s time – 500 years to be precise – before putting the boot in...

Continued at UKSpirituality

Monday, October 19, 2009

Power, shillings and pence

The Conservative Party's Age of Austerity seems to particularly chime as the nights draw in. We're running out of light and warmth - we're running out of money. Whether their message maintains its resonance come next Spring when the sky, far from having fallen upon our heads, is breaking in to blue and with it the promise of a brighter future, remains to be seen.

But for now it feels as if time is running out, and as my friend Michael and I walk down Islington's Upper Street, our talk is about money...

Continued at UKSpirituality

Friday, October 16, 2009

This Sunday...

Cross-posted from UKSpirituality


While most readers of this blog will have been drawn here by an interest in or expression of spirituality, most of us will not have suffered persecution because of what we believe in.

Persecution can define religions – the Christian church was shaped on the anvil of martyrdom, Judaism and Islam developed their unique characteristics simply to survive. Unitarianism even embodies its spirit of dissent in its name – an original rejection of the Holy Trinity.

Persecution can define countries and causes – intrinsic to Britain’s understanding of itself is the Summer of 1940 when it beat back the Nazis. Socialists still speak of the Tolpuddle Marchers, Irish Republicans Bloody Sunday.

Even today, in England, some individuals almost consciously seem to seek out persecution – the registrars who refuse to marry Gays, the niqab-clad school teachers.

Persecution can put our faith to the test. It can even, dare I say it, make us feel special. I remember as an awkward, oddball teenager being told by a girlfriend: the reason they don’t like you is because you’re different, and different is good – it means you are better than them.

It certainly lifted my spirits.

So persecution can cut both ways. It can seek us out, or we can seek it out.

What spirituality means to me is truth and I don’t mean – this piece of dogma over that, or the “true” story of creation. What I mean is what speaks to my soul, be it a work of art, a beautiful (or bleak) day, a moment of intimacy, or an insight that strips away all pretence.

So I seek to live in truth as best I can. To me, truth is an expression of holiness, a holiness some might call God.

It is also a useful way of cutting through the crap. What is a true persecution? Are we being faithful to a greater cause, or just striking a pose?

Christians still face genuine persecution in countries like India and Pakistan. Attacks on British Jews are at an all-time high, while in the Middle East, Bahais, who in many ways resemble a kind of Islam-influenced Unitarians, are regularly victimised. I was actually inspired to post by news that a date has now been set for October 18 for the “trial” of seven Bahais in Iran for the capital offences of “corrupting the earth” and “espionage for Israel”.

What can we do? What can you do? Not a great deal, it is true – there sometimes seems to be so much suffering in the world.

But as small as each of us is, in smallness we can do what we can – as individuals remember, pray even for these seven on the 18th.

As communities – reach out to local Bahais and join our small voice to theirs.

In their uninvited persecution is our fellowship – in their truth is our truth.

And truth is holy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tiananmen Two? What should Unitarians do?

In Iran Awakening, Nobel Prize-winner Shirin Ebadi described the draining-away of democracy after the revolution.

As the population became better educated thanks, to be fair, to Islamist doctrine, it increasingly voted for reform: to such an extent that the Mullahs created the Guardian Council to vet potential candidates and "safeguard the revolution". Only four of the hundreds of applicants for President at the recent elections got through the process, and even then the regime apparently had to stuff the boxes to ensure "their" man won. In at least 50 cities more votes were reported than were actually voters registered to vote.

Now protests are being violently repressed, the regime seemingly discardjng its final fig leaf of democracy and following the Chinese example - "safeguarding" their revolution in blood. Because there is a precedent - how many of us remember that China still suppresses dissent? Yet we buy everything from its toys to computers to cars, participate in its Olympics, and borrow its money: it is in fact America's banker, the world's economic engine. Our hope now looks east - keep building China, keep us rich.

Would anyone be surprised if Moscow went the same way? What am I saying... to be a journalist in Russia is suicide.

Our Politicians do nothing. Why should they - they are a reflection of our self-interest. Their voters did not want the repression of Cold War communism, so they held firm, but none of the above appear yet to threaten our freedom. Indeed our Faustian bargain buys it at the expense of others.

So what can we UUs, as a relatively tiny, if also relatively well-heeled, religious sect do?

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki considers the possibility of ballot irregularities in the presidential elections as almost nonexistant.

"The possibility of organized and comprehensive disruption and irregularities in this election is almost close to zero given the composition of the people who are holding the election," he told foreign diplomats on Sunday.

Mottaki blamed Britain for interfering in the elections, saying it had been planning against the vote for more than a year.

"We witnessed an influx of people from the U.K. ahead of the election," he said, without offering specifics.

Mottaki accused Britain of supporting followers of the Baha'i faith, a religion that originated in 19th-century Persia but which Iran does not recognize.

Britain can of course look after itself, but the Baha'i is another matter. There are around 300,000 of them in Iran - about the same number of UUs in the US - and they are frequently persecuted by a regime always hungry for scapegoats. In February the Washington Post reported:

TEHRAN, Feb. 17 -- Seven leaders of the Bahai faith who have been detained for more than eight months in Iran have been officially accused of espionage, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said Tuesday.

The prosecutor general, Ayatollah Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, wrote in a letter made public Sunday that there are "strong and long-term relations between the Bahais and the Zionists," as Iranian officials often refer to Israelis. The Bahai headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, but the denomination says it has adherents in virtually every country.

"All evidence points to the fact that the Bahai organization is in direct contact with the foreign enemies of Iran," Dorri-Najafabadi wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei. The letter appeared in the Kayhan newspaper, which has strong ties to the government.

"The ghastly Bahai organization is illegal on all levels, their dependence on Israel has been documented, their antagonism with Islam and the Islamic System is obvious, their danger for national security is proven and any replacement organization must also be dealt with according to the law," Dorri-Najafabadi wrote.

Abdolfattah Soltani, one of the lawyers for the Bahai leaders, said he had not been permitted to meet with his clients. "How can I make my case ready? I'm only their lawyer in name," he said in an interview. The Bahais are also being represented by Soltani's colleague Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and Nobel peace laureate.

There Shirin pops up again - what a brave woman. Anyway, if there is one thing UUs can do, we can announce our solidarity with the Bahai, a faith that bears many similarities to our own, and do all we can to aid them.

As UUs, solidarity with the Bahai is surely an act of our faith - power politics may shape our times, but the unity of the human spirit is universal.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

THE THE More like the music of now than the music of now

I've been asking myself: did Matt Johnson of Eighties group THE THE have some kind of second sight? Or is it just that nothing ever changes?

You may be worshipping the temples of mammon
Or lost in the prisons of religion
But can you still walk back to happiness
When you've nowhere left to run?

But if you think that Jesus Christ is coming
Honey you've got another thing coming
If he ever finds out who's hi-jacked his name
He'll cut out his heart and turn in his grave

Islam is rising
The Christians mobilising
The world is on its elbows and knees
It's forgotten the message and worships the creeds

6 o'clock in the morning & i'm the last person in this plane
still awake
Y'know I can almost smell the blood washing against the shores,
Of this land that can't forget its past.
Oh the wind that carries this plane, is the wind of change,
heaven sent and hell bent!

Well it ain't written in the papers, but its written on the walls
The way this country is divided to fall,
So the cranes are moving on the skyline--
Trying to knock down--this town
But the stains on the heartland, can never be removed,
from this country, that's sick, sad, and confused.

But this last one has always been my favourite.

The more I see
The less I know
About all the things I thought were wrong or right
& carved in stone

So, dont ask me about
War, religion, or god
Love, sex, or death

Everybody knows whats going wrong with the world
But I dont even know whats going on in myself.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

He's listening, she's listening

While I await the broadband connection to be repaired, here's another musical intermission. I've recently discovered (only a decade too late) the Red House Painters, who will be accompanying me on forthcoming road trip across Europe. They don't have many videos, but I like this fan-rip of Kurosawa.

Meanwhile my girlfriend is listening to the San Remo hit, Come Foglie - "like leaves". Again, I prefer the fan-rip.

Which reminds me of a favourite Stina vid, "official" this time.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Normal service will be resumed when...

1. I get my camera phone repaired, again (the HTC Touch Diamond sucks)
2. Alice provides me with a signal sufficient to upload

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fund the God or no God bus!

A theological dispute currently rages on the streets of London. A group of atheists funded an advert on London Transport reading There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life in response to the kind of ads on the double-decker below. 
The Christians are now counter-attacking with a raft of ads ranging from There definitely is a God to The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. 
Children. CHILDREN

On the other hand, why miss a golden opportunity? So anyone who wishes to fund God or no God, find love and wholeness with the Unitarians (or indeed, has any better suggestions), contact me at the address on my profile and we'll sock it to 'em with some grown-up spirituality!