Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.

22/07/2017

Hiatus

I am deciding to take a break from writing on this blog - perhaps indefinitely. The past six months have seen a number of events in my personal life, at times horrendous yet also somehow affirming.

I witnessed my Grandfather's last awful breaths, strung out over hours, way back in 2010 - as he suffocated from the side-effects of lung cancer. His face contorted like the figure from Edvard Munch's The Scream. In recent months I have seen similar, watching a loved one go through days of physical suffering and related trauma that will last a lifetime - that same contorted face. I know another relative has experienced the same, often in the lonely hours of nighttime.


One consequence of witnessing this is I have ceased pretty much all connections with the church, which in turn 'powered' much of the writing on this blog.

This disconnection is firstly borne out of being unable to 'connect the dots' anymore with regards to core beliefs of the Christian faith. As this blog reflects, I have always struggled to connect some of the dots but now I am at a point where I struggle to connect any of the dots - or at least not enough dots to feel I can engage authentically in church life.

In particular, the question of suffering - why we must become The Scream - cannot be answered, as I see it, by the Christian faith. There are speculative answers to the question, such as this article by Jeffrey Small which rests its case on Paul Tillich's 'Ground of Being' - and, for me at least, speculative answers may also be partially found by some of the work around Pandeism and Process Theology (an extension of pantheism / panentheism and classical deism).

But this is ultimately not Christianity. I have long not been regarded as a 'proper Christian', due to my unitarian leanings - and any move to a deistic or panentheistic school of thought will not help such views. Although it is always said politely, in my experience many Christians are so wedded to the Nicene Creed that it obscures the possibility of them offering the hand of friendship to a Unitarian. After various polite but nonetheless heartless run-ins, I find myself reasoning, 'If you can't see I'm a Christian, then why do I keep trying? Does this loss of a label lead to any great loss in my life? No... so why bother?'

So whilst I am not an atheist and I am not hostile to the teachings and example of Jesus, I do have to 'own up' and say a belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, actively loving God is currently just no longer there. I've sat on it a while and it's simply not there, for the first time in my life.

This in turn has resulted in me not attending church and disengaging from any other Christian connections I had established over the years. As such, it no longer matters whether I am viewed as a Christian or not.

And, from there, it's also brought with it another realisation. I have come to realise I enjoy not having these connections - I feel unburdened, liberated even. The truth is - although I have met a sizable number of people through the churches I have attended (Methodist, Unitarian, Quaker) who I consider to be truly inspirational people (one in particular has become one of closest friends) - I cannot say I have ever really felt 'at home' with Christians by and large.

In my time away, I have reflected on things and I have realised a great deal of self-declared Christians make me feel claustrophobic - and some of them make me feel outright angry with their mealy-mouthed smugness and snarkiness. As Gandhi is often quoted as saying, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians..."

Instead, for the time being I have decided to focus on other means of affinity and fulfilment - authentic affinity and fulfilment, rather than what has come to feel like an acted-out, faux fulfilment. This authentic affinity and fulfilment was already there and is found in precious time with family and friends, in the challenges and rewards of my working day, in the discipline of fitness and exercise and in the joy of my garden. 


So, as we Yorkshire folk (more or less) say, "That's me done for nah - si thi..."

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Addendum...

It has been suggested to me, in light of what I have written above, that maybe I am a Unitarian - in the modern, post-Christian sense - after all. 

There is one standout memory of attending a Unitarian church which I think answers this...

When my wife and I decided to marry, we picked a Unitarian church. The truth is she liked the church because it was pretty and near the venue we had chosen, whereas I liked it because it was Unitarian - Unitarian in the classical liberal Christian sense. We started attending the Unitarian church on a weekly to fortnightly basis - partly because we had to but, for me, because I wanted to commit to a church having recently moved to the area.

We had a beautiful wedding day there and those memories will never be spoiled. I remain thankful to the church members who made the day possible.

However, we attempted to continue to attend the church after we had married and, from there, ran into problems. Our continued attendance after marriage appeared to be seen as 'odd' as we were rigidly viewed as one of the 'marriage couples' (which was quite a lot, given how picturesque the church is) rather than members of the small clique of 'regulars'. This was conveyed through little things such as the 'Oh, you've come back' type comments from the 'greeter' when we entered and when notices / short lectures were given by one of the church officials about 'marriage couples parking inappropriately' (or some other indiscretion) with her eyes indiscreetly fixed on us and others.

But what decisively ended things was one Sunday we attended and picked up a regional magazine for the denomination on the way in, more out of habit than anything. In it we read a number of outraged letters about a 'spirituality and bondage' article that had apparently been published in the last issue. The article appeared to be a 'spiritual' take on the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' book (all the rage at the time). I understood more than my wife that this was another case of the factionalism within Unitarianism between Christians and 'trendy' post-Christians, of which I was very much on the Christian 'side' - my wife just found it amusing that in a church magazine there was this unfolding furore about getting tied up and whipped etc. as a 'spiritual practice'.

At the end of the service we instinctively went to the bookstand to pick up the previous issue. All the other previous issues were there except that one. As we rustled through, our backs turned to the door, a slightly shrill voice called out "Can I help you?"

We turned round to find four or five 'regulars' of the congregation stood staring at us, inadvertently blocking the door. My wife replied, "Oh, I was just looking for the last issue of this magazine..."


In response, one of the group stepped over to rustle through and said, "I think we've run out of copies...Why do you want it?" Her tone now more hostile.

To which I replied honestly, "We just wanted to read the article which the letters in the current issue are talking about... I am unlikely to agree with it, but sometimes you want to see what the fuss is about all the same..."

At this point, another regular - a gentleman with an erudite tone - stepped forward and said, "Well actually we've banned it, it's not theological and has no place in a Christian place of worship..."


My wife had gone silent at this point with her eyes to the floor (probably regretting not asking for an invisibility cloak on the wedding gift wishlist) but I continued the conversation with this regular, touching briefly on the issue facing the Unitarian denomination over theology and identity. This somehow led to a mention that my brother was training to be an Anglican minister and he had mentioned the Anglican church as a 'broad church' has similar tensions. To which the gentlemen commented, "Well we are not intolerant like the Anglicans..." before launching loftily into a short speech about his opposition to the 'dogmatic', 'illiberal' Anglican church - again, seeming to aim it at us by association. The same gentleman who had just proclaimed a publication to be banned.

We never went back to the church.

It was largely a comical situation - something we have laughed at since as it would not have been out of place on the Vicar of Dibley - but this typifies much of my experience of and frustration about the Unitarian denomination. For me, I have come to realise that the paralysing confusion (ultimately, weakness) over what the Unitarian church has been, is now and might become in the future stems as much from Christians as it does from so-called 'Post Christians'. There is no fellowship to be found with either 'side'.

24/01/2017

History, non-liberal

Once upon a time I was a history student, at masters degree level no less. Whilst I have not devoured lots of history books and documentaries over the years since then, it certainly did sharpen my mind and gave me skills, in terms evidence-gathering and evidence-processing, which have served me well in other areas. This includes one standout occasion where I resoundingly beat a cheap 'claims for you' lawyer in court on behalf of some family members he had victimised - I often think I did the masters really just for that, for the ability to pursue justice.

Whilst studying history, I also enjoyed the study of historical theory and discourse analysis - alongside studying actual events of the 20th century. This article I happened upon today, on the frontpage of the very readable 'Spiked Online', has taken be back to those 'glory years':

- www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/history-begins/19149#.WIe3rlOLTIU

I was chided and condemned by some of my liberal friends for voting for Britain to leave the EU - so much so that I no longer call myself a 'liberal'. I have come to consider the term 'liberal' - in this day and age - as largely an inadvertent class-based label on the one hand, and on the other a deliberate label used to signify apparent intellect and a set of political positions masquerading as higher virtues. It inadvertently signifies a level of wealth and comfort, although those using the label make great play of speaking for the worker and the poor.

I stand by my vote and those millions of others who voted 'Brexit' because, for the reasons Brendan O'Neill highlights, having seen the social, economic and political situation apparently 'sewn up' with Blairism, it awoke humanity up. I don't agree one bit with Donald Trump but his election has similar hallmarks in America - the vanquishing of a deadening hegemony.

And for me - remembering the words of one of my esteemed tutors on the masters programme - the 'victory' will not be found in the short term news of Article 50 or Trump but what hopefully comes afterwards, for 'history is rarely if ever written in months and years but in decades...' I hope we are seeing the early shoots of a re-engagement of ordinary people in politics and the longer-term possibility of genuinely new leadership in the West...

27/12/2016

Silent Love

I happened upon this today and found it to be moving. I wonder if the 'you' depends on the reader - a lost loved one, someone you admire (not necessarily romantically) or maybe even God?


“I choose to love you in silence…
For in silence I find no rejection,

I choose to love you in loneliness…
For in loneliness no one owns you but me,

I choose to adore you from a distance…
For distance will shield me from pain,

I choose to kiss you in the wind…
For the wind is gentler than my lips,

I choose to hold you in my dreams…
For in my dreams, you have no end.” 

― Jalaluddin Rumi

24/11/2016

Giving Up The Ghost

I mentioned recently how I had embarked on studies back at university - a doctorate to be precise. It's been a positive experience in the sense the doctorate programme I joined was really well-designed and well-supported. I also briefly met some great colleagues and fellow-researchers. I also enjoyed the content... it was technical, challenging, mind-bending even - but nothing to fear.

But I am now admittedly talking about this adventure in the past tense rather than present or future. This is because I have faced a growing 'reality check' regarding how much workload, in terms of hours of the day, that I can take on. This is in the full light of my day job and family life - and the need for good mental health.

To reach this difficult decision - this acceptance I cannot practically do something I really wanted to do - I have sought the advice of a few trusted people in my life. In particular, I have spoken with one person I consider to be a soul friend, over a chinese buffet meal funnily enough. 

I also consulted 'Imitation of Christ' by Thomas Aquinas - or, arguably, it consulted at me in that I flicked through it casually one day and arrived at a section that seemed to speak directly to me and rebuke me in one fair swoop. The passage reads as follows - with the most cutting bits highlighted:

"COUNSELS ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

'HE who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord. (John 8:2)

In these words Christ counsels us to follow His life and way if we desire true enlightenment and freedom from all blindness of heart (Mark 3:5). Let the life of Jesus Christ, then, be our first consideration.

The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints, and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna (Rev. 2: 17) But many people, although they often hear the Gospel, feel little desire to follow it, because they lack the spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.

Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God? `Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,'(Eccles. I: 2) except to love God and serve Him alone (Deut. 6:13). And this is supreme wisdom - to despise the world, and draw daily nearer the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to solicit honors, or to raise oneself to high station. It is vanity to be a slave to bodily desires,'(Gal.5:16) and to crave for things which bring certain retribution. It is vanity to wish for long life, if you care little for a good life. It is vanity to give thought only to this present life, and to care nothing for the life to come. It is vanity to love things that so swiftly pass away, and not to hasten onwards to that place where everlasting joy abides.

Keep constantly in mind the saying, `The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. '(Eccles. 1:8). Strive to withdraw your heart from the love of visible things, and direct your affections to things invisible. For those who follow only their natural inclinations defile their conscience, and lose the grace of God."

On Personal Humility

Everyone naturally desires knowledge, (Aristotle, Metaphysics I,1.) but of what use is knowledge itself without the fear of God? A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul (Ecclus.19:22). A man who truly knows himself realizes his own worthlessness, and takes no pleasure in the praises of men. Did I possess all knowledge in the world, but had no loves how would this help me before God, who will judge me by my deeds?

Restrain an inordinate desire for knowledge, in which is found much anxiety and deception. Learned men always wish to appear so, and desire recognition of their wisdom. But there are many matters, knowledge of which brings little or no advantage to the soul. Indeed, a man is unwise if he occupies himself with any things save those that further his salvation. A spate of words does nothing to satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a clean conscience (I Tim 3:9), brings great confidence in God.

The more complete and excellent your knowledge, the more severe will be God's judgement on you, unless your life be the more holy. Therefore, do not be conceited of any skill or knowledge you may possess, but respect the knowledge that is entrusted to you. If it seems to you that you know a great deal and have wide experience in many fields, yet remember that there are many matters of which you are ignorant. So do not be conceited,(Rom 11:20) but confess your ignorance. Why do you wish to esteem yourself above others, when there are many who are wiser and more perfect in the Law of God? If you desire to know or learn anything to your advantage, then take delight in being unknown and unregarded.

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself."

Funnily enough, I had this inclination of heading along the wrong path, having read Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and The Sea' (which I wrote about this summer) - the image of the fisherman returning with a worthless carcass after a gigantic struggle, his life-force arguably misspent, has hung with me these past few months. But perhaps I needed more than a metaphor and that's where 'Old Tom' stepped in!

I could go into a long-winded analysis about this chapter of my life - my various motivations for it in particular. But there is no need really - I have no regrets about embarking on this short-lived journey and maybe one day I will return to it.

16/10/2016

Peace of mind?

"There seems to be something close to a peace of mind industry out there, complete with its own sales force. Nothing makes me want to cancel my life insurance like those smug inhabitants of magazine adverts and billboards, lying back in hammocks or staring out at the ocean, at peace with themselves because they have the right kind of insurance policy, or pension scheme, or investment fund."

I listened to a great piece on Radio 4 today, by chance, on 'Peace of Mind' by Michael Symmons Roberts - above is one of the cutting opening lines. He explores the different aspects of 'peace of mind' and, as far as I understood, settled on the idea that to be at peace is to be living constructively both for yourself and others - though not necessarily conflict-free or noise-free.