Sunday, 29 May 2011

"No-Church" and "No-position" - one way of being an open-hearted and -minded liberal Christian church

Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935)
Flower Meadow in the North (1905)

Some five years ago I came across the work of Paul Wienpahl, a very accessible philosopher who, for many years, taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara dying in 1980. He wrote about and interpreted two of my own favourite thinkers, Wittgenstein and Spinoza, and he also wrote a very engaging and useful book entitled 'Zen Diary' in which he recounts his personal experiences during a six month spell in a Japanese Buddhist monastery. He was much admired as a teacher because it seems he was able to communicate to his students the feeling that, although philosophy was a scholarly discipline, much more importantly, it was also a spiritual discipline of personal liberation. An early expression of this recognition may be found in a moving personal piece he wrote in the mid-1950s entitled 'An Unorthodox Lecture' in which he sketched a pivotal moment in his own personal spiritual/philosophical journey. (It is available online.) I was profoundly influenced by it as I found in it many helpful remarks and pointers that have significantly shaped my own thinking over the last five years. In one passage, to which I have often returned, Wienpahl says that:

'. . . the point [of the philosophical life] is not to identify reality with anything except itself. (Tautologies are, after all, true.)  If you wish to persist by asking what reality is; that is, what is really, the answer is that it is what you experience it to be. Reality is as you see, hear, feel, taste and smell it, and as you live it. And it is a multifarious thing. To see this is to be a man without a position. To get out of the mind and into the world, to get beyond language and to the things is to cease to be an idealist or a pragmatist, or an existentialist, or a Christian. I am a man without a position. I do not have the philosophic position that there are no positions or theories or standpoints. (There obviously are.) I am not a sceptic or an agnostic or an atheist. I am simply a man without a position, and this should open the door to detachment.' 

The phrase that particularly resonated with me here was Wienpahl's claim to be 'a man without a position.' It is, however, easy to be misled by this because it can sound, as he realised, as if this might be to say one is 'without direction.' Perhaps, he says, it can sometimes mean this but Wienpahl stresses that for him it means that he most definitely does have a direction and that this direction is his own. He continues by saying that this direction,

'. . . will come from within rather than being imposed from without. It means that I will guide it, I will give my life its form. And consciously too. Which seems to be hoisting one by one's bootstraps, but is not. It is just difficult.'

Now I was suddenly reminded of this passage during this week as I was reading a wonderful new translation by Dustin Condren of Tolstoy's 'Gospel in Brief' - a book hugely influential on my own outlook in which he offers what is, for me, a highly congenial interpretation of Jesus' teachings. Anyway, I eventually came to Tolstoy's presentation of the well-known gospel story in which Jesus talks about foxes and birds having homes. Here is the story as it appears in Luke (cf. Matthew 8:19-20):

'As [the disciples] were going along the road, a man said to [Jesus], "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head' (Luke 9:58-59).

Tolstoy offers us this teaching in the following form:

'And a certain man said to Jesus, "I will follow you no matter where you go." At this Jesus said to him, "There is nowhere to follow me. I have no home, no place where I could live. Only animals have lairs and dens, but man is at home anywhere that he can live by the spirit' (Leo Tolstoy, The Gospel in Brief, Harper Perennial, 2011, p.66).

I was powerfully struck by how Tolstoy has Jesus' reply resonated strongly with Wienpahl's thought. To follow Jesus is, for Tolstoy, not to be led to some fixed lair and den - i.e. some claimed absolute idea or practice - and to be told that this is your true home, no! Tolstoy's whole understanding of what it means to follow Jesus can, I think, be summed up by saying that it is to be invited into a way of being-in-the-world such that you will become a person without a position in the sense Wienpahl was talking about. To remind you this is a way of being-in-the-world in a direct way, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling it as you actually live it. It is an invitation to experience it's wholeness as a multifarious thing, as now one, now many. It is an invitation to get out of the mind and into the world, to get beyond language and to the things of the world themselves. It is to cease to be an idealist or a pragmatist, or an existentialist, or a Christian and, lastly, to open the door to detachment.

This is very close to the kind of church I am hoping to encourage here. It is to hold firm to something that frees us from holding firm to something; it is to have the kind of position which helps us orientate ourselves authentically to the world such that we can see how we can have our being-in-the-world without a position. It is to belong to a body of people who, even as we trust in a practical vehicle that structures meaning and worth for us - and here this is a commitment to the example and teachings of Jesus - we always understand that we must not become attached to it in such a way that it becomes an -ism, even Unitarianism, but only a way by which we are kept free to be in the world as it actually is.

In Tolstoy's hands this odd way of being 'Christian' is what Jesus is gesturing towards in his teaching about the foxes and the birds. But another well-known illustration of what I mean comes in the form of the 'Parable of the Raft' told by the Buddha.

He tells a story of how a man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. On this bank there is great danger and uncertainty and on the far side is safety. However, there is no bridge crossing the river nor is there a ferry so what is the man to do? Well, he gathers together a number of logs and vines which he uses to build a raft that can take him across the river. Then the Buddha then asks a question: 'What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river thought to himself, "The raft has served me well so from now on I will carry it on my back?"' The Buddha's audience replied that it would not be at all sensible to cling to the raft in such a fashion. The Buddha continued 'What if the man lay the raft down gratefully thinking that it had has served him well but, since it is no longer of any use I can leave it here on the shore?' His listeners replied that this would be the proper thing to do. The Buddha concluded by saying to them 'So it is with my teachings which are like a raft and are for crossing over with not for seizing hold of.'

In Tolstoy's eyes, and in mine, Jesus' teachings are the material which are for us ready-to-hand by which a very good raft can be built, one which you can hold on to and sail with real confidence. It's a good home for us as we travel through this astonishing complex and beautiful world sailing upon it, it's a good position to hold and from this position we are helped to structure genuine meaning and worth. But, as the parable of the raft reveals, we must not become attached to this structure (this sailing) and, as Jesus' parable reveals, we mustn't start to think of it as our true and final home, den or lair. It is, as Tolstoy felt Jesus taught, not only to realise - in our heads - that we find our home anywhere we can live by the spirit but to actually to begin to live that way every day as members of what the Japanese Christian Uchimura Kanzō called 'No Church'. Of this church Kanzō tells us:

'Its ceiling is the azure blue sky, adorned [at night] with bright stars. Its floor is the green pasture, dotted with flowers of infinite colours. Its musical instrument is the boughs of pine trees and its musicians are the birds in the forest. Its altar is the mountain peaks and its preacher is God Himself. Such is the church for all of us who believe in the "No Church"' (cited in Uchimura Kanzō and His 'No Church Christianity': Its Origin and Significance in Early Modern JapanReligious Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, Sep., 1987, pp. 377-390).

It is into this kind radically open way of being-in-the-world that this church - and I hope my own teaching with all its flaws - calls you. It is to have "No-church" and "No-position" which, paradoxically, gives us both a church and a position which we can trust and take to be our home.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mustard seeds and short-circuits


Given that we've been talking about it recently this week my head and heart has remained with the matter of what we, as a church are about. As we know one clear and present truth is that we are very small in size. And, when you are small but think you might have something to say that can contribute to the making of a better world, the kingdom of heaven if you will - and I think that we do have something to contribute to this work -, then the temptation is to think that a certain kind of numerical growth would be good for us. As a sign of hope that this kind of growth is possible we might be tempted to cite Jesus' parable of the mustard seed in which he said:

'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches' (Matthew 13:31-32).

But today I want to push against this 'growth' reading of the story a little bit - not absolutely, as you will see - in order to reveal something else we need to think about first.

Like all of Jesus' parables, just what he was on about here was, and is, far from self-evident - indeed his whole teaching style seemed designed, not to offer simple answers to the problems of life but, by encouraging us to *look* at the world, his was a teaching aimed at changing our *whole* way of life, our whole way of being-in-the-world (cf. Wittgenstein, Culture and Value V, 53e) so that things in it showed up, shined, for us in not only new and different ways but also, on occasions, for the first time.

In this parable Jesus makes us to look at a very small thing indeed. But what most of us *see* when we look at this seed is really only what tradition silently bequeaths us. One important bequest is a long tradition of use which reads off the surface of the story a simple and straightforward lesson about growth - i.e. something which will be large and expansive begins with something small and compact. A second important bequest is related to the way Jesus' image has almost always been read in connection with other, similar, Biblical images - images almost certainly known to Jesus and certainly to our own church's founders. Good examples for those minded to look them up are Daniel 4:10-12, Psalm 104:12, Ezekiel 31:3,6. The parable of the mustard seed has, like honeysuckle or bindweed, woven it's way through these and other stories and, in a number of cases, become indistinguishable from them.

There is nothing absolutely wrong with these bequeathed ways of seeing because this is the way humankind structures meaning and worth, it *is* how we shape a world and it is the process by which anything at all can show up for us as meaningful. Anyway these two bequests, and more, have lead us to see the story today as generally speaking about a certain kind of desirable growth related to physical and/or numerical size.

But it is clear that these and other inherited ways of seeing - though vital and important - can obscure other important ideas and can keep them firmly unthought and, for a time perhaps, even unthinkable. With this thought I can begin to move us to a way of reading the parable that can help us see just such an obscured and, for us, unthought thought that, in my opinion at least, needs to be recovered by us before we can meaningfully worry about numerical growth. That marvellous modern encourager of unthought thoughts, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, points out that:

' . . . one of the most effective critical procedures [is] to cross wires that do not usually touch: to take a major classic (text, author, notion) and read it in a short circuiting way, through the lens of a "minor" author, text or conceptual apparatus ("minor" should be understood here in Deluze's sense: not of "lesser quality", but marginalized, disavowed by the hegemonic ideology, or dealing with a "lower", less dignified topic). If the "minor" reference is well chosen, such a procedure can lead to insights which completely shatter and undermine our common perceptions' (Slavoj Žižek in The Monstrosity of Christ, Slavoj Žižek and John Millbank, MIT 2009 pp. vii-viii).

Žižek thinks that this process doesn't simply bring to light something new in the text or tradition, but also serves to make us 'aware of another - disturbing - side of something [we] knew all the time' (ibid p. viii).

(By the way my recent address about Wallace Stevens' "Anecdote of the Jar" is another version of this kind of short-circuiting process.)

We can turn now to a fine example of the art of short-circuiting performed on the parable of the mustard seed displayed by the NT scholar John Dominic Crossan:

The first "minor" author he uses as a lens to look at Jesus' parable through - "minor" that is for Christians - is, in the first case, the Roman author, naturalist, natural philosopher, naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD). Crossan reminds us that Pliny wrote:

'Mustard ... with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.'

The second "minor" author, or rather authors, Crossan uses as a lens to look through - again "minor" as far as Christians are concerned - are those who wrote the second-century AD Jewish text, the Mishnah - the text which later formed part of the better known Talmud. In it the authors tell us that, because of its tendency to run wild, the planting of mustard seed in a garden was forbidden in Jewish Palestine.

(Mishnah Kilayim 3:2). That this is recorded in the Mishnah means that there is a good chance that Jesus would have been aware of mustard's tendencies and Crossan feels, along with the historian of first-century Palestine Douglas Oakman, that: 'It is hard to escape the conclusion that Jesus deliberately likens the rule of God to a weed.' Crossan, continuing to look through these lenses concludes that the point of Jesus' parable:

'. . . is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, but like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover qualities. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses - if you could control it' (John Dominic Crossan, Jesus - A Revolutionary Biography, Harper San Francisco 1994, pp. 64-66).

It seems to me that this reading of Jesus' parable speaks directly to us as a church which grew to its first maturity in a tradition of radical Christian reform and dissent. Here's what I mean.

The first thing to see is related to mustard's 'pungent' and 'fiery' qualities. Mustard is wonderful stuff and it is an indispensable addition to the range of culinary ingredients. Basically you want it, you even need it, on your kitchen shelf and on the common table. We have had some fiery ideas and insights that have contributed and still could contribute enormously to the overall flavour of that complex dish that is the Christian faith and wider civic society (For those interested in knowing what they are here are two links to pdfs of Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Earl Morse Wilbur's books on the History of Unitarianism and here is a link to an html version of the text. Additionally, here is a link to a pdf of a very accessible address given by the Revd Dr Arthur Long entitled Look unto the rock from whence you were hewn which was very influential upon me when I was deciding whether to leave my journey towards the priesthood in the CofE and towards ministry in a Unitarian and Free Christian context. I later got to know Arthur very well and had the pleasure of working with him in a number of contexts.). Having said this no one would want mustard to become, itself, the main ingredient of a complete meal. I'll return to this thought in a moment.

The second thing to see relates to mustard's 'tendency to take over where it is not wanted and also that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired.' Every religious and/or political system when it gets into power wants to impose a certain kind of ordering on society, to cultivate it in regular and efficient ways. This is not something to be sniffed or mindlessly rejected. Never forget the question put to us by the Monty Python team, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" and always remember the answer - 'sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, public baths and brought peace.' But the kinds of systems which can bring such helpful ordering, cultivation and efficiency when left wholly unchallenged all too easily become synonymous with dreadful repression and coercion. As a radical dissenting church we have, historically, fulfilled the role of challenging just such systems that have descended into dysfunctional patterns of behaviour and we've successfully sprung-up unwanted in all kinds of places and have been impossible to get rid of. Not only this but all kinds of problematic birds - problematic, of course, for the powers that be - have found good homes in our branches; literally thousands upon thousands of religious and social reformers (here is a link to a pdf of Raymond Holt's The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England) have flown from nests in our boughs down into the fields of humankind to do their freeing and liberating work.

The third thing to see relates to mustard's 'dangerous takeover qualities' and here we find a warning directed at us. Our fiery pungency is a good and necessary addition to the common table and our hard to get rid of radical Christian presence plays a necessary corrective role in the life of wider political and religious society. However, the passionate energy that is required to play this corrective role has always been in danger of getting out of control and, at times, we have succumbed to the hubristic belief that what we have to offer should become itself the main course. But, inevitably, we discovered that no one wants mustard shrub for a main dish. So, particularly in recent decades, we have slowly been trying to dilute our distinctive, pungent, fiery radical Christian taste in an attempt to become some all purpose universal flavour. The result? Well, to paraphrase Jesus (Matthew 5:13): 'You are the mustard of the earth; but if mustard has lost its taste, how shall its pungency be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot.'

This is one major reason why we are not growing - we've lost our flavour - and who wants to spend time growing and nurturing a useless plant? However, I remain convinced that we have a future and will grow to an appropriate size whenever we have the courage to re-embrace our historic role as a radical and critical but necessary and distinctive Christian guest at humanity's common table humbly offering our own very particular pungent and fiery flavour as a small but valuable contribution to the many courses that make up humankind's delicious common feast.

Growth remains needed but only in so far as we first remember to grow, not into a mighty cedar of Lebanon or a common weed, but a 'problematic' mustard bush. Let's sow ourselves like seed and bear fiery fruits according to our kind.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The quiet opening - "Things are not only what they are, they give more than they have.”

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening 
between fence strands 
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground, 
the deer poured through it.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns 
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer—

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

- Jane Hirshfield


Last week, just before finishing the address I gave which was connected with our AGM, I received an email from a recent visitor to the church - Kennedy Warne (who read us a Maori greeting in Maori) - which contained a poem by Jane Hirshfield. This poem, 'The Supple Deer' (you can listen to her read this poem during a live reading here), struck me as an image which we can use to help us continue to reflect upon how we might go forward as a local religious community. It also offers us an appropriate theme since, following today's service, we will hear about the national General Assembly Meetings in Wales and, therefore, some of the ideas it has sparked in the two members of the congregation who attended on our behalf, Andrew Bethune and Shirley Fieldhouse.

So let's start with the poem and a few of the themes and ideas it contains.

Hirschfield begins by presenting us, in a very minimal, almost calligraphic, brush-stroke way, the two characters who will play out before us an exquisite, miniature drama. The first is the wire fence, the second, a supple deer - a stag.

The quiet opening 
between fence strands 
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground 

These characters meet in the moment we suddenly see the deer pour through the fence leaving not even a scrap of hair as evidence that this had occurred:

the deer poured through it.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns 
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

If you have ever seen this happen you will know it happens so fast and fluidly that, like Hirshfield, we feel we don't know how a "stag turns into a stream, an arc of water" and, in the moment of heightened wonder and sensitivity that follows she tells us that she has never before had such 'accurate' envy.

Now, on my first few readings of the poem this comment jarred for me because in our culture envy is strongly felt to be something not at all good. So why on earth, at this moment of almost transcendentally clear beauty, does she seem to dirty the image by using use the word 'envy' and why, too, does she modify it with the adjective 'accurate'?

I confess that I had to leave the poem for a day a day or two to feel my way through this but I was sufficiently intrigued and goaded by her that I hunted out a book of her essays and read "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration". At the end of this she notes:

"No matter how carefully we read or how much attention we bring to bear, a good poem can never be completely entered, completely known. If it is the harvest of true concentration, it will know more than can be said in any other way. And because it thinks by music and image, by story, passion and voice, poetry can do what other forms of thinking cannot: approximate the actual flavour of life, in which subjective and objective become one, in which conceptual mind and inexpressible presence of things become one. 
Letting this wideness of being into ourselves, as readers or as writers, while staying close to the words themselves, we begin to find a way of entering both language and being on their own terms." (Jane Hirshfield, "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration", Harper Collins 1997, p. 31-32).

The first thing that jumped out at me - apart from the crucial reminder that no poem can be entered completely - was Hirshfield's mention of the fact that a poem can "approximate the actual flavour of life".

It is to be regretted that in Western Europe and North America much of our art, religion and philosophy - especially as it has developed since the Enlightenment - we have often tried to articulate our hopes and ideals in rather clean and perfect ways and, consequently, we have often failed to serve up to each other the actual flavour of life. In Hirshfield's poem she reintroduces to us a human reality and I'm sure that, despite all our own personal clean high cultural, religious and philosophic ideals, there is no one here today who has not, at sometime in their life, felt the emotion of envy come upon them. It remains a painful truth, but a truth nonetheless, that envy is an actual flavour of life and we should not be surprised that the suppleness we see in the deer might move us to envy. I say we are envious of the deer because at this moment I am writing this address *as if* I were reading through the poem line by line for the first time. Since the poem is entitled "The Supple Deer" nothing, so far, has hinted otherwise.

So, before we consider another point from her essay and because of the important surprise she gives us, let's first continue through to the end of the poem.

The next line was, for me, completely unexpected where she reveals that her accurate envy is "Not of the deer". Oh my, we suddenly realise that she is envious of the fence. This envy is, she concludes, connected with the porous, quality the fence has which would allow the largeness largeness pass through it:

"To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me."

So now we know that Hirshfield wants to be like, not a deer but, to return to the poem's opening line, a "quiet opening" - like a fence. This realisation should now raise the question of why she has called the poem "The Supple Deer". We'll return to that in a second. But, for the moment let's return to a consideration of envy and Hirshfield's essay. Usually we are envious of people who have things which, when we take time really to examine them, we can see that, in themselves, they will not bring us the well-being, happiness and wholeness we seek. So, to pick a personal example, I know that a big house in the Suffolk countryside surrounded by glorious gardens and parkland, though truly lovely, will, of itself, not make me happy. In this sense my envy is wildly 'inaccurate' because it really doesn't, cannot hit the mark I feel it should - namely a fulfilled and abundant life. Another way of putting this is that when envy is inaccurate subjective and objective DO NOT become one and neither does our "conceptual mind and [the] inexpressible presence of things" become one. This kind of envy keeps the house 'out there' and me 'still here' and I am not in any way united with the 'real presence' of that house (I deliberately use this very Catholic phrase). This kind of inaccurate envy is all wrong for it separates and divides; it creates impermeable walls and not fences with open lattices.

But Hirshfield's envy, she tells us, is 'accurate' and by this I take it to mean that for her it *has* focussed upon something that she instantly knows will bring her the wholeness and happiness she and we really desire.

The first thing to say is that Hirshfield has seen that there are some things in life which we think we don't have - though in a second I'm going to modify this statement - that there are some things in life which we think we don't have and which we know, really know, we should. This is a special kind of envy, an accurate envy, because we can only recognise it as something truly needed if we already have within us something of it that allows it to be recognised in the first place. For an easy to grasp illustration of this think of the moment Jesus goes into the synagogue at Caper'na-um when we hear that those present were "astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:21-22). Such recognitions are possible only if the truth Jesus was showing those present was already in them in some way - that's why his hearers thought he spoke with authority.

This kind of 'accurate envy' of something we know we need (we know is true) is what helps drive us to transform and transfigure our lives (and, in the words of the Prayer for Peace which we say each week at the end of the service) by which we are led from death to life, from falsehood to truth, led from despair to hope, from fear to trust, led from hate to love and from war to peace.

It seems to me, then, that 'accurate envy' is the desire for the openness already gifted to us but which, until that moment of envy sprang up in us we had not previously been able to see we already had within us. In the moment 'accurate envy' appears distinctions between "subjective and objective" begin to collapse and the inexpressible real presence of that thing and our own concepts of our self begin to become one. In other words 'accurate envy' names the process by which, as Hirshfield says in her essay, the wideness of being is slowly begun to be allowed into ourselves.

So if the fence has the quality of wideness about which Hirshfield feels envy why on earth does she call the poem "The Subtle Deer"? Why doesn't she call it "The Quiet Opening"?

Well, it is true that the poem seems not to be about the deer per se but it is important to see that the poem *is* about the largeness of the deer which pours through us whenever we allow a wideness of being into ourselves. This porous quality, this wideness of being, is only made visible in so far as something that is more-than-ourselves is allowed through us - the supple deer stands for this 'more-than-ourselves'.

Consequently, we may go on to say that Hirshfield's poem gestures towards the sense that, as Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) said, and which I remind you about every now and then, "Things are not only what they are, they give more than they have.”

The poems, works of art, pieces of music, stories and religious practices (such as communion) that continue to impress and inspire us are precisely those which continue to allow through them this gifted 'more-than-themselves'.

But, and this is key to realise, a fence can only gift this 'more-than-itself' in a way appropriate to a fence. Van Gough's "A Wheatfield, with Cypresses" will gift this 'more-than-itself' in it's own way. Mahler's Fifth Symphony will gift it in its own way.

So what are we? and what is the largeness that could pass through our form?

Hirshfield sees that even something as tenuous as a wire fence can gift such largeness to the world - her poem is, itself, as minimally drawn as a wire fence. It seems to me that our own 'form' as a religious community is as minimally and to some, as tenuously and openly drawn as the fence (and Hirshfield's poem) for our covenant together simply reads: 'In the love of truth and the spirit of Jesus, the members of this congregation unite for the worship of God and the service of humankind.' As I've said many times before we need to embrace this again confidently.

When we do this what is the largeness which pours through it? Well, it has been a powerful non-sectarian expression of Christian love and openness - a love, to cite our opening hymn, seeks to bring all people under its banner regardless of the usual impenetrable walls we place between us.

This love will pass through us when, with accurate envy, we passionately desire to live again our life-giving form as a truly open, liberal Christian church:

The quiet opening 
between fence strands 
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground, 
the deer poured through it.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns 
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer—

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

Monday, 9 May 2011

"It is one thing to dance as though nothing has happened; it is another to acknowledge that something singularly awful has happened . . . and then decide to dance" - on impending denominational collapse

 You'll spot Chief Plenty Coups'
picture above my head amongst some
of my other teachers and models

I want to begin by noting that this is an address from me very much as a minister within a particular religious tradition (Unitarian and Free Christian) who has a position of corporate responsibility. Would I say what I say here if I were not a minister? Perhaps not. However, my own personal identity is so tied up with my ministerial one that today they cannot really now be untangled.


Today, the day of our AGM, I want to tell you a story about radical hope which, at first sight, will seem to have nothing to do with us. However, by the end of this brief address I hope you will see why it does.

The story concerns the native North American tribe called the Crow which had its lands in what is modern day Montana. They were a people whose understanding of in what being-in-the-world consisted centred wholly on hunting and warring with their Sioux enemies and these activities and the practices that were related to them were absolutely constitutive of Crow subjectivity - i.e., the understanding of what they were. Consequently, when the white settlers came and not only destroyed the buffalo herds but also outlawed intertribal conflict, what it was to be a Crow was in danger. Their remarkable chief, Plenty Coups, said of this period "when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened." The philosopher Jonathan Lear - mostly known for his work on Freud - recently wrote a poignant, accessible and helpful book called "Radical Hope" which starts with Plenty Coups' statement and which explores the extraordinary story of how the tribe were able eventually to manifest a radical hope by finding a traditional way forward in the new world that was to be the USA even as they faced the complete and total end of their way of life. Life as the Crow literally became impossible.

But what does this mean? For the moment let's stick just to hunting buffalo. Lear notes there is something here we are liable to miss if we are not careful because, when we say "It is no longer possible to hunt buffalo", we are speaking of two things (Jonathan Lear "Radical Hope", Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 38ff):

The first is that "Circumstances are such that there is no practical possibility of our hunting for buffalo" - i.e. there are simply no longer any buffalo to hunt.

The second is that we mean "The very act of hunting buffalo itself has ceased to make sense."

Not clear about the difference? Well, Lear gives us a modern illustration of this:

Consider a person who goes into her favourite restaurant and says to the waiter, "I'll have my regular, a buffalo burger medium rare." The waiter [replies], "I'm sorry madam, it is no longer possible to order buffalo; last week you ate the last one. There are no more buffalo. I'm afraid a buffalo burger is out of the question." Now consider a situation in which the social institution of restaurants goes out of existence. For a while there was the historical institution of restaurants - people went to special places and paid to have meals served to them - but for a variety of reasons people stopped organising themselves in this way. Now there is a new meaning to "it is no longer possible to order buffalo"; no act could any longer count as ordering. In general [Lear continues] these two sense of impossibility are not clearly distinguished because they often go together. (Jonathan Lear "Radical Hope", Harvard University Press, 2006, pp. 38-39).

Now let's turn to war and to an act which was for the Crow closely bound up with it, namely, the Sun Dance. This dance was a prayer-filled ritual asking for God's help in winning military victory. But, as Lear points out, what is one to do with the Sun Dance when it has become impossible to fight - impossible in both the senses I've just noted. In essence a culture facing this kind of cultural devastation has three choices:

1. Keep dancing even though the point of the dance has been lost. The ritual continues, though no one can any longer say what the dance is *for*.

2. Invent a new aim for the dance. The dance continues, but now its purpose is, for example, to facilitate good negotiations with whites, usher good weather for farming, or restore health to a sick relative.

3. Give up the dance. This is an implicit recognition that there is no longer any point in dancing the Sun Dance. It is also to give up, of course, any hope of continuing as a Crow people.

By 1875 the Crow finally chose the third option. When, ten years later and by now on the reservation, Plenty Coups said "After this, nothing happened" Lear points out it is tempting to think that Plenty Coups simply meant no traditionally important events like the Sun Dance happened any more. But, as Lear observes, it is

"also possible to hear him bearing witness to a deeper and darker claim: namely, that no one dances the Sun Dance any more because it is no longer possible to do so. . . . One might still teach people the relevant steps; people might learn how to go through the motions; and they can even call it the "Sun Dance"; but the Sun Dance itself has gone out of existence" (Jonathan Lear "Radical Hope", Harvard University Press, 2006, pp. 36-37).

The two central shaping acts that gave everything to the Crow had just gone out of existence. Imagine, just imagine, how that felt to the members of the tribe now herded together on their reservation. It is no wonder there were such high levels of depression and despair amongst Native American peoples.

At this dark moment - and before I explore the decisions they took to continue and point to the radical hope that Plenty Coup and his tribe eventually found - I need to let you know why I am telling you this. In a way, I think that as a certain kind of liberal church we, locally and nationally, are in the midst of an analogous situation - no where near as horrific and total as that faced by the Crow, of course, but analogous nonetheless.

We grew to our height and greatest strength during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the equivalent  for us of buffalo (well not really equivalent but analogous) at the time were the many hundreds of thousands of people we were able to attract who were looking for a version of Christianity religion which was egalitarian, theologically non-judgemental, which was open to the insights of other religions and cultures and also open to the discoveries of the natural sciences. But for all kinds of reasons the whole culture changed and became more and more secularised. This immense group of religious people actively seeking a liberal Christian institution have simply disappeared from the landscape to be replaced with a similar but really very different kind of secular person. (Cattle are similar to buffalo but not the same. A person whose cultural background is religious is different from a person whose cultural background is secular).

The equivalent for us of the Sun Dance were our many congregational rituals, our hymn-singing, our prayer-saying, our sermon-giving and special services such as baptism and communion - all of which were, of course, tied to a particular kind of God language and metaphysics. All of these embodied activities were intimately woven in with our conception of in what the good life consisted and they helped us structure our world and give it deep meaning and significance. But, in so many ways, we find that although we still know the steps and words the whole way wider culture structures the world and gives it meaning and significance has changed such that many of our old ways are impossible (in both the senses Lear points to).

Now you might be saying by now "Good God, that's bleak" and I won't deny at one level it is. Figures don't tell everything but they indicate how bad things are for us. There are now only 163 member churches in England, Scotland and Wales with a total membership of 3,672. The largest church is Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London has 168 members but the second largest is Dean Row Chapel, Wilmslow, with 80. In Cambridge we have 43 and sixty-one of our congregations have 10 members or fewer. (See this post by Boy in the Bands - a US Universalist minister who helpfully keeps an eye on such things around the world).

For us as a denomination it really is do or die.

But here I can turn to the radical hope with which I began. The Crow decided that they wanted to survive - it was an existential decision - and to do that they first had to acknowledge that the old ways of living a good life had gone. For him that involved "the stark recognition that the traditional ways of structuring significance and meaning had been devastated." But, in his beautiful book, Lear believes  that for the Crow this recognition was not an expression of despair but the only way to avoid it. He points out that one must recognise the destruction that has occurred if one is to move beyond it.

Having acknowledged this Plenty Coups and other members of his tribe returned to their stories and dreams (dreams and their interpretation were, as I'm sure you know, key in tribal life) and they radically re-interpreted them to find a traditional way Crow forward. There are some beautiful and moving examples of this in Lear's book but I'll just use that of the Sun Dance as it is here that I find a convergence with what I'm trying to do with our own beleaguered church tradition.

In 1941, sixty-six years after they abandoned the Sun Dance, the Crow decided they wanted to re-introduce it but at that point they found that the steps of their version no longer existed in the memory of single member of the tribe. However, they pressed on by seeking out the leaders of the Sun Dance among the Shoshone tribe in Wyoming and, in so doing, learned the steps that their traditional enemies had danced when they hoped to defeat the Crow in battle - here is one important moment of reconciliation. But, you might ask, was this, is this, the maintenance of a sacred tradition or is it, to quote Lear "a nostalgic evasion - a step or two away from a Disneyland imitation of 'the Indian'?.

Lear thinks everything hinges on Plenty Coups declaration that after the buffalo had gone and the warring had stopped "nothing happened" because it lays down something key if a genuinely vibrant tradition is to be maintained or reintroduced. As Lear says:

"It is one thing to dance as though nothing has happened; it is another to acknowledge that something singularly awful has happened . . . and then decide to dance" (Jonathan Lear "Radical Hope", Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 153).

Because that acknowledgement was made their decision to dance  again helped them, not only survive in a real and meaningful traditional way, but also to bring some of their unique traditional insights to the common table of modern American culture. Plenty Coups is now a national hero and stands as an example of reconciliation. The singularly awful happening the Crow experienced has not gone away but they have redeemed it - not only for themselves - but, potentially, for the whole of modern USA as their stories have commingled and the resulted in an enrichment of the whole. Not everything Crow was salvageable but enough was.

We, too, as we face what might seem like the end can choose to do likewise. We can choose to begin to dance again some of our traditional dances - even if we have to learn them again from others, namely those people from different Christian traditions, Protestant and Catholic, people from other religious traditions and even the non-religious, who are finding a home amongst us. (I forgot to mention this at the lectern but the major recent reintroduction in this congregation - ten years ago - was, of course, the communion service and it was well over sixty-six years since it was last held in Cambridge).

If we have the courage to do this kind of thing more fully I am sure we will not only be able to survive in a real and meaningful traditional way, but we, too will also be able to bring some of our unique radical insights to the common table of modern secular British culture and we will be able to enrich each other. Not everything we valued will be salvageable but enough will.

"It is one thing to dance as though nothing has happened; it is another to acknowledge that something singularly awful has happened . . . and then decide to dance" (Jonathan Lear "Radical Hope", Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 153).

So, let us acknowledge the awful thing that has happened - is happening to us and then decide to dance again. That decision saved the Crow. It may yet save us.

Shall we dance?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A further thought on why I keep mentioning God . . .

Last night I remembered these words penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They seem relevant in the light of my last post:

"God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, or science, has been surmounted and abolished, and the same thing has happened in philosophy and religion (Feuerbach!). For the sake of intellectual honesty, that working hypothesis should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated. . . . Honesty demands that we recognise that we must live in the world as if there were no God. And this is just what we do recognise - before God! God himself drives us to this realisation. - God makes us know that we must live as men who can get along without Him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34)! We stand continually in the presence of God who makes us live in the world without the God-hypothesis" (Letters and Papers from Prison SCM, London 1971, p. 360).

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why, if you claim to be a Christian Atheist, do you keep mentioning God?

Dear Anon,

Thanks for your question which you posted at the end of my last post - one which I'm surprised I don't get asked more often. I found it very helpful, at last, to be asked it so directly. For those who didn't see the question here it is:

Anonymous said . . .
One thing I do not understand: why if you claim to be a Christian atheist, (which immediately sounds somewhat oxymoronic to me) do you keep mentioning God?

So, here's my reply . . .

Your point about Christian Atheism being oxymoronic I explore a little in the post of Sunday, 27 March 2011 entitled 'Come Down Jehovah' but in essence it is an atheism which derives from a particular way of reading the Christian narrative which sees a trajectory developing within the Judaeo-Christian tradition that increasingly points away from a transcendental understanding of God to an increasingly immanent conception and one which has, by now, become wholly naturalised and non-theistic. (Ernst Bloch is a key writer on this subject - here's the Wikipedia entry to him and here's a link to an mp3 of a recent conference on his book Atheism in Christianity) So in this kind of atheism the word God refers now, not to some supernatural entity but instead to a discernible *trajectory* which brings questions of meaning, worth and belonging wholly down to earth (it names not a thing but is a kind of placeholder for a narrative - a story). That's why I found Chris Woods' song 'Come Down Jehovah' so helpful - he couldn't say what he says without being able to reference God/Jehovah.

Anyway the point here is that this is an atheistic narrative whose language is gifted by the Biblical narrative. Clearly today it is a narrative which finds strong connections with other atheistic narratives but its own story is distinctive and, I think, full of insights that are unique to it and, I believe, helpful - especially in this age that needs to find ways to get Atheists, Non-Theists and Theists talking to each other in more creative, collegiate ways.

Connected with this are the possibilities opened up by the work of Lucretius. Lucretius (following Epicurus) offers us, as you know, an avowedly materialist world-view that has no place for a belief in the gods. So why does he invoke Venus - a god of the Pantheon - in his wonderful poem 'De Rerum Natura'?

Well, he is alert to the way nature (the world) presents us with two 'faces' - the 'outward appearance and inner workings of nature' (DRN 1.148) - in Latin: 'naturae species ratioque'. (I explore this more fully here and here.)

By 'ratio' Lucretius meant nature's 'law or inner workings' and we can use this word to refer to how the world shows up to us (shines) when we consistently apply to it active human reasoning (which I have associated with the natural and formal sciences - and which Lucretius ties to Epicurus). By 'species' Lucretius meant the 'face' or 'outward appearance' of nature and we can use this word to refer to how nature can show up for us (or shines) as human-beings who are always-already in the world not only as creatures with a dispassionate and rational faculty *but also* an emotional and poetic creatures (this I have associated with the work of artists and particularly poets - and which Lucretius ties to Venus). Some of this latter, emotional and poetic way of expressing things, has - and still can -  use the imagery of the gods/God. One way to explore this though is through Lucretius' picture of a puddle. Here is his illustration:

"A puddle of water no deeper than a single finger-breadth, which lies between the stones on a paved street, offers us a view beneath the earth to a depth as vast as the high gaping mouth (hiatus) of heaven stretches above the earth, so that you seem to look down on the clouds and the heaven, and you discern bodies hidden in the sky beneath the earth, marvellously (mirande)" (DRN Book 4:414-419).

Note that word "marvellously" (mirande) as we'll come back to that in a moment. But, firstly, the key thing to notice here is that even as you can see infinite depths in the puddle you also instantly *know* (really know) that it is an illusion. You need only bend down and wiggle your finger in the puddle immediately to dispel the image both visually, by the ripples you make, and physically, as your finger touches the hard pavement just a couple of centimetres beneath the surface.

John I. Porter (in Lucretius and the Sublime in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. Stuart Gillespie and Philip Hardie, Cambridge University Press 2007) points out that Lucretius offers us this image to remind us that the greatest optical illusion of all is "that presented by the world as it is perceived on a day-to-day basis" and that throughout time we have read off the world's surface all kinds of appearances - not least of all that the gods are involved in our world. One of the major purposes of Lucretius' poem is to show clearly how empirical enquiry and rational thought can correct our view of the world.

Now, this might make you think that Lucretius is trying to devalue all the surface appearances of the world (including the use of god language) and, instead, to privilege only what we can see with the eye of reason. But this is not true at all for as Porter points out a great deal hangs on that word 'marvellously' (mirande) because by using it we see that Lucretius feels the reflection of the sky in the puddle is wonderful as both 'an appearance of nature and as an index to the wondrous truths of physics' (John I. Porter, ibid., p. 173). Lucretius is simply insisting that the appearances of nature (and how, as poets who are emotionally and imaginatively engaged in the world, we can talk about them) can be admired and enjoyed per se so long as they are not used in a way which conflicts with what we know to be true about the world thanks to the natural and formal sciences.

Here is where the language of the gods/God can fit in which can speak to us of all kinds of things all kinds of beautiful helpful, therapeutic ways *AS LONG AS* we continue to make it clear that the very possibility of this kind of appearance (species) being able to occur in the first place is indissolubly tied to the inner laws of nature (ratioque).

What I feel called upon to try and achieve in our own age - because it acknowledges that we are not only rational creatures but also ones who respond poetically to the appearances (species) of nature - is to find ways to show CLEARLY (as the puddle does) that God language has nothing to do with supernaturalism but is, in fact, an 'index to the wondrous truths of physics'. I think we can retain the helpful, artistic, therapeutic aspects of the gods/God and at the same time use it to see, ever more clearly, the 'wondrous truths of physics'.

There is a high chance that this reply is unlikely to satisfy you but, well, it's where I am in my thinking at present. And, as I said at the beginning, I have valued the fact you asked me so straightforwardly the question you did.

Warmest wishes,


Monday, 2 May 2011

No image, no passion - or do we really have to drive on, ride it out and sing in silence?

MP3 (before downloading this file do please read Stephen Dunn's poem "At the Smithville Methodist Church" - for starters it's simply a good poem but since it provides me with a key theme which I explore in this address it's fairly important to have read.)

Much of what I say in this address also comes from my experience as a jazz musician - both as a player and educator - and as, I hope, an entertaining start to this address - here is a recent performance of "I'll Remember April" with Mark Crooks on tenor, Chris Ingham on piano, Russ Morgan on drums and yours truly on bass.

A theme I return to again and again is the need for religious liberals to stop prevaricating and to step out into the world, to get down and dirty and once again learn how to live and act in it with hope and confidence. But I am acutely aware that our post-enlightenment culture has for a long time encouraged us to live at a dangerously sceptical distance from the world and this, in turn, has meant that our lives often have the feel of being more observed and theoretical than actually lived ones. The religious life for many liberals has become simply a theoretical model - always on the drawing board but never quite put into prototype form and actually sent out in the world to be tested. As our reading of "At the Smithville Methodist Church" by Stephen Dunn eloquently showed many of us have developed crippling fears particularly about our own community's prototype - Jesus of Nazareth - in whom we who used to have absolute confidence as being able to help us learn how we ourselves might live fully and passionately in the world.

Today I want to remind us that to become fully human we need human exemplars to follow who can help us frame and ground our potentialities. The only way I know how to show you what I means is through my work in teaching people how to play jazz and, particularly, jazz-bass. One of my own role-models as a bass player was Chuck Israels, especially in his work with the great pianist Bill Evans' trio of the late 60s. He summarises an experience many of us have had working in this field:

Over the years, as I have assumed the role of "Jazz Educator", both within and outside of "institutions of higher learning" . . . I have learned to ask (of students) a revealing question. "Who is your favourite musician?" It is remarkable that more often than not, I get no clear answer. There is sometimes a period of uncomfortable silence broken by occasional throat clearing noises, while the prospective student searches for a name or perhaps tries to guess what name might create the most effective impression. Sometimes an embarrassed silence yields nothing and occasionally there is an equally uncommitted claim to have listened to and liked "everything" (from An Unpopular Perspective on Jazz Education).

Like Israels, nearly every year I find a number of such students standing before me claiming to want to play jazz but knowing absolutely nothing about the music or who claim to love it 'all' but who are unable to point to any specific example of the music. What is going on? Well, Israels believes (and I agree with him) that the student is motivated by something very worthwhile, namely, the 'idea of the potential pleasures of performing with and for other people, with the attendant rewards of attention and shared activity.' These are, he notes:

. . . worthwhile values and have served as a part of the motivation of many artists. But this is a broad image which is insufficiently concrete to serve as a focus for attainment. There is no clear place to begin and the mentor is reduced to helping the applicant to find something to love. Get a model. Find a prototype. Without this there is no image and no passion (from An Unpopular Perspective on Jazz Education).

I know from experience that people who come to check out a liberal church tradition such as this are motivated by the many worthwhile ideal potential gains they feel such a community should offer - they include (I hope) wisdom, religious insight, community and a certain sense of mental and spiritual stability as well as an exciting openness to all kinds of ways of being religious. But this general feeling is such a broad canvas that, alone, it is wholly 'insufficient to serve as a focus for attainment.' If an individual church or minister allows people to remain at this general level there is simply no clear place to begin to learn how to be religious liberally.

So as mentor - whether as a music teacher or minister - I find my role is often reduced to helping people find something to love, to get a model and find a prototype. In the case of my music students I have to send them away to go and listen to something - anything - and, when they have found something they actually like, to come back to me and begin the real task of imitating that model and of figuring out how and that player is playing the things he or she does. To the disappointment of many of them this turns out to be hard work, a work which takes, I'm afraid, years to complete. But, if you haven't got a role model about whose playing you are very excited then you will have 'no image and no passion' and this huge task quickly becomes too great to see through to the end. That student will either give up or, if they keep playing, will drift around at the general level of wanting all the fruits of being a jazz player without doing any of the required foundational work and, in consequence, they turn out to be directionless players with no substantial grip on anything real about the music. At best they will be mediocre players at worst they will experience feelings of utter frustration, hopelessness and failure. Another solution some try to use is to start to believe that the good players have some magic about them - that they have somehow had something like magic dust sprinkled on them at birth. (Of course we know many religions argue that this is true of their founding figures).

The same is true in liberal religious circles; merely desiring the fruits of a liberal religion without, at the same time, seriously seeking to follow the religious prototype or model of that faith-in-action means you will never get a real grip on what you need to be doing in any religious life. Everything will remain terribly unfocussed and unfulfilling; there will be no attainment and no progression. At best you will be mediocre in the matter of living, at worst you will experience feelings of utter frustration, hopelessness and failure to live the abundant life which Jesus promised could be ours.

It is true, of course, that there are other models or prototypes one might follow other than Jesus and I am not making here some covert claim for his absolute uniqueness and value over all other great religious teachers - I, too, have a number of other figures who continue to hold my loyalty (see the side bar of my blog for a few of them) - it is simply that historically Jesus just happens to be our particular family of faith's trusted primary model. (Importantly one can learn as much from the mistakes our models made as from their wonderful examples - Jesus did some dumb, even bad things, just as my musical heroes made some dumb and bad albums. Models are not, in any absolute sense, about arriving at perfection - either in the religious life or music - just about living/playing as well as YOU can).

Now, I am aware that some here may seek to resist the message of this address because they believe it would tie them down, unduly restrict them. But a model only ties and represses when it becomes fixed, merely to be slavishly repeated without variation and creativity - but this is not a true model. The true model frees us because it is precisely in the process of modelling oneself on something tangible that you are helped into the real world to test and experience it yourself. The conception of following Jesus I have in mind is much more like the exciting and fruitful relationship I continue to have with my musical heroes. It was only by copying them that I learnt how to move from an idea or theory about how to play jazz to playing jazz. I don't sound precisely like any of my heroes but without them I could not be free to be me, Andrew Brown, jazz musician.

However, once personally freed you cannot then simply bequeath others who follow you (such as our children) - with no cost or effort - your freedom. You also have to offer them real models to follow themselves and make sure they are attached to wonderful stories. In music I offer up Miles Davis and the wonderful story of his journey from the 'Birth of the Cool', through 'Round about Midnight' on to 'Kind of Blue' and then to 'Bitches Brew' and beyond; I tell the story of John Coltrane and his move from Miles' bands on to 'A Love Supreme' and 'Ascension'; the Beatles and the wonderful story of their transition from 'Love Me Do' to 'A Day in the Life'; the Bee Gees and the wonderful story of their transition from 6os psychedelia to R'n'B Disco heroes. In this pulpit I try to offer you a variety of models to learn to love but primarily I hold fast to offering up the example of Jesus and the wonderful stories about him that we have in the Gospel narratives.

The tragedy of institutional Christianity was to turn Jesus from a startling and inspiring human model and story into a dead dogmatically held metaphysical theory about the world. Standing up for that kind of Jesus - with its associated slavish support of the institutions that support these theories - that is something I, too, am profoundly uncomfortable about. But we, unlike Dunn's parents in his poem, don't have to drive on, ride it out and sing in silence - no! We can show our children (and ourselves) how to sing (improvise) another kind of song.

The genius of our liberal tradition was to see that when Jesus was followed, as a true human exemplar, Jesus inspired and enabled a person to begin experience, not a pale imitation of Jesus' life nor that of some religious institution, whether the Temple or the Church, but their own life in all its fullness - the only life any of us can experience.

The truth is we don't have to become crippled with worry about affirming Jesus as a model because, when followed with imagination, intelligence, wisdom and some real anarchic rebelliousness, his example still provides us with a practical method of entering fully into the world beyond all theories and beyond all religions (Jesus as a model need not be tied here to any kind of Christian metaphysic or belief - cf. my sermon on Christian Atheism). We, too, can still stand up for Jesus but for us, if we sing our own song properly then this is simply to help every man and woman begin to stand up in their own ways as truly free sons and daughters of God and together to improvise a better future for all.


After giving this address I later on went down to the local Methodist Church at the other end of the road to lead the evening service on the subject of "James Martineau and Unitarian and Free Christian Spirituality." Their minister is on sabbatical at the moment and they are having a series of services on different kinds of Christian spirituality. It was very kind of them to invite me. If you want to read this click on the link below where by later on today (Monday 2nd May), I will have put up a scanned pdf of my text.

"James Martineau and Unitarian and Free Christian Spirituality."