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.

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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.


Cartwheeling clergy!

Royal Hangover

Even as a staunch republican, yesterday felt like a good day to be a resident of this quirky sceptred isle. I started the day off in a cynical mood delivering republican views to my partner, friends, family and anyone else who would listen - and the response was a receptive one, no counter-arguments put forward as to why we should have a monarchy, an acceptance it all makes sense in theory. But as the day progressed we were all touched by the spectacle of the events in beautiful, uptown London. Reflecting on this now, it seems the major case for the monarchy persisting in Britain is an emotional one rather than a reasoned look at the pros and cons of constitutional monarchy vs. parliamentary republic. Speaking very generally, the British people (of all tribes, English, Welsh, Scottish, Cornish, Ulsterman) appear to maintain a tempered support for the monarchy because of the sense of stability and unity - mixed in with a large dose of soap opera and celebrity glamour - that they provide during events such as a royal wedding.

Indeed, yesterday it was easy to see this appeal of the monarchy as a million people gathered on the streets of the capital, and across the country people took a day off work to sit in the sun in parks, bars etc. There was a sense of togetherness in the flag waving, the spontaneous standing to cheer and applaud the events on the big screen, the clumsy rendition of our favourite hymns - and classic British irreverent humour with people donning all manner of Union Jack tat, some dressing in their best wedding hats to go down the local pub, some going further dressing up as one of the royal family, as the 'Queen of Hearts', a medieval knight etc. - and perhaps the highlight, the en-masse nudging and winking (with a few whistles and cheers thrown in for good measure) at the sight of the Best Man, Harry Wales, and the Bridesmaid, Pippa Middleton, walking together. Through a certain lens, this could be viewed as Britain at its best.

The sense of stability that the monarchy and royal events bring also adds to this emotional pull. Britain has changed immeasurably over the past century - rapidly transforming from a generally ethnically and culturally (white, Christian, English-speaking) homogeneous industrial & imperial superpower with a neat class structure (everyone knowing their place) to a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual 'messy' nation operating as 'one of many' in a globalised economy.  The seemingly unshakable tradition of our monarchy sends the message that things may have changing fast, the future may be scary, but we still have our ancient beliefs and ways to hold onto - "things might be changing, but not that much..." was the message of the day.

The press coverage and comments from people who had made the trip to London also highlighted another side of the emotional pull of the monarchy - aspiration. Views from members of the public (selected by the media, of course) focused on the fashions, the pomp, the luxury etc. of the event and the casting of Kate Middleton as the 'commoner' who had made it to the top. The narrative was one of 'rags to riches' fairytale - Kate Middleton the Cinderella, William Wales the Prince Charming.

Of course, some of this comes from reality. William Wales presents as a hard-working, conscientious individual seemingly more in-touch with the general public than previous generations of royalty. As much as Elizabeth II is admired for her seemingly stoical, dutiful manner, it is felt that it was her aloofness following the death of Diana Spencer (mixed in with her handling of various previous scandals involving her children) that previously lead to a gradual decline in support for the monarchy. Both of Diana's sons, William and Harry, have grown up in the media eye and seem to have pro-actively followed their mother's legacy in trying to use their public profile primarily for representing charities and lesser-known causes rather than for personal gain and pet projects. They have also proved more willing to acknowledge their fallibility. Their personal tragedy in losing their mother has also created a lasting level of goodwill from the British public who want them to succeed, as they would any children facing the sudden loss of a parent. This tied in with the media's portrayal of Kate Middleton's and William Wales's quite everyday relationship as a fairytale love story adds to the attraction (don't stop believin' folks).

But if we move past the emotional pull of the monarchy and in particular, yesterday's occasion, the rational arguments for a transition to a republican model of politics remain valid. The principle and practice of the British constitutional monarchy is ultimately a flawed fantasy - offering little more than fanciful, unfulfillable notions.

The sense of unity under the monarchy ignores the fact that it continues to exclude the majority of the population based on ancestry, economic background, gender, denominational affiliation / religious beliefs, sexual identity and arguably, ethnicity also. Yesterday's Royal Wedding was an exclusive event open to a tiny hand-picked elite-of-sorts - the general public who massed in London and around the UK were passive spectators not active participants. We were subjects not citizens. Our society has become increasingly diverse - and has benefited greatly because of this in terms of creativity, skills, openness - but this has left some communities on the margins. On seeing the royal wedding guests, how many of us relatively affluent, comfortable spectators still felt a nagging sensation of exclusion and detachment - of not being part of the club, and not wanting to? Imagine then the thoughts and feelings of northern English communities who have faced long-term recession, the NEETs, the 'New British' growing up with a different religion and language, the 'Celtic fringe' communities with a history of conflict with the British state and so on. If the top spot and related upper echelons of society (The Privy Council, The House of Lords, The Honours System) were opened up to all through the adoption of an elected presidency - that an 'Obama moment' was made at least technically possible in Britain - then it is probable some of the dangerous alienation we now face as a society could start to be countered in a more meaningful, sustainable way.

Similarly the sense of stability - the traditions, the protocol, the centuries-old symbolism - may all offer a comforting nostalgia and 'Rule Britannia' pride but they can only act as a temporary distraction from the challenging economic and social times we live in. As the global economy grows & shifts in focus and our societies continues to undergo a technological revolution (akin to the Industrial Revolution on amphetamine), we live in a state that is leaving people behind - and not necessarily the older generations, but rather more dangerously, the younger generations. We have an school & college system not equipping all of our young people for the new economy, a university system that's lost its way, we have an increasingly monolithic print and television media, we are trying to recover from a recession caused primarily by multi-national conglomerates, we have a political system that is leading to increasing apathy and small but significant occurrences of violent extremism under various banners (far right, Islamist, anarchist). A constitutional monarchy, in its offer of stability, is charged with providing long-term protection of the state and its subjects - as 'servant of the people', 'guardian of the consistution', 'national conscience' - but it is ill-equipped to do this by its very nature as an unelected, unaccountable, unqualified, ambiguously apolitical, elitist institution. An elder statesperson or other distinguished figure - democratically chosen by the people for such a role - would be able to discharge these duties much more effectively and with much greater legitimacy.

Furthermore, the aspirational aspect to the monarchy - the royal wedding in particular - is both misleading and in conflict with the values our society claims to now hold dear. The wedding clearly wasn't a 'rags to riches' story despite all the media spin. The Middletons are reported to have assets worth £30million and the very fact a 'commoner' has to marry into a specific family to get anywhere near to the top spot in our state and society runs in direct contrast to the general view that we are on the road to meritocracy. If we are to pursue 'The British Dream' espoused by our political leaders over the years, more recently re-cast by Labour leader Ed Miliband as 'The British Promise', beyond mere rhetoric then inevitably there must be an end of constitutional monarchy. This is not simply a case of freeing up the top spot but about the very principles our entire political system and economy are founded on and seek to embody on a day-to-day basis. An elected president would set a standard and most probably act as a catalyst for further egalitarian-minded reform (the next stop being whole-scale democratic reform of the House of Lords, then tidying up devolution to make it fairer across all of the home nations).

Certainly an elected British presidency (styled according to the German presidency our nation helped establish following WW2) would not be without it's pitfalls and there would be far-reaching constitutional implications of such radical reform, nor is it a panacea for all of our country's ills - but it is an essential step towards 21st Century Britain realising the dream and promise of democracy and meritocracy.


Dear Kate and Will...

Here's wishing you all the best for today...

...from your Great Great Great Great Great Uncle James

(Click here to find out more.)


Republic of Monarchy, please

Democracy - The belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.

Meritocracy - A social system or society in which people have power because of their abilities, not because of their money or social position.

Royal Wedding hype is starting to dominate the national conversation here in Britain - there is a real sense of excitement amongst people, fuelled by the media which is generally pro-monarchy (why bite the hand that often feeds you?). However, I am a strong believer in democracy & meritocracy - unlike some of those invited to the wedding - and support Republic which campaigns for a democratic alternative to the monarchy. So this week is quite a frustrating one (although the spring sun helps).

The monarchy, an antiquated second chamber and the lack of consistent federal governance / lack of an English national assembly or regional assemblies all inhibit our country's ability to fully function as a fair, open society.

Unfortunately we live in a culture dominated by the cult of celebrity and are governed by a change-adverse political elite - as highlighted by the debates running up to the Alternative Vote Referendum which too often talk about preserving 'British political traditions'.

I do not buy into the arguments for such traditions - because as I see it, such traditions have propped up the remnants of a feudal domination system, such traditions maintain much of the Victorian class system, such traditions hold people back from reaching their full potential, such traditions exclude people based on their economic background, religious beliefs, sexuality etc., such traditions reduce accountability for those who hold power and so on.

As a matter of principle, I feel called to oppose this.

So whilst I wish William Wales and Kate Middleton all the best in their personal lives, I will not be celebrating the huge (24 carot gold, diamond encrusted) anchor on the continuing quest for a democratic and meritocratic society in Britain.


Bloody Revolution

I've just made my daily visit to Cranmer's blog and ended up viewing a shocking video. I usually actvely avoid watching horror videos (real or otherwise) but this perhaps needs seeing because our Western view of what's happening is being sanitised by our media. From Libya, Bahrain, Yemen to Syria, the peoples of the Middle East are rising up against their domination systems and we must support all of them in whatever way we can. Please write to our Prime Minister and your local MPs - request that they oppose / sanction these governments, cut off all ties and provide support for freedom of expression and non-violent protest.

To learn how to do this, visit the Amnesty International website.


Resurrection Eternal Part. 2

So did Jesus really rise from the dead? Marcus Borg answers...


Bad Friday

The sun was shining, the skies were a beautiful blue.

The City looked radiant in this light.

Some residents of The City were out and about enjoying the markets.

Others were off to a special event, whispering to each other excitedly.

A public execution was planned - a celebrity was about to be brought down.

They had built him up as the next great thing.

The Great Jewish Hope.

But they were quick to turn on him.

He was accused, beaten, humiliated.

Many a leader would have done a deal - joined a coalition maybe?

Many a leader would have called on their followers to seek vengeance.

Called for a crusade, called for jihad.

Declared a 'just war'.

Become a freedom fighter, become a terrorist.

He did nothing.

He did everything.

He didn't cower, he didn't fight back.

He decided to stand fast and accepted that in doing so, he must lose his life.

This man treasured life like no other, but he was willing to pay this price.

For his mission was greater.

They just didn't get it - they labelled him a loony, a clown, a ficiton.

He didn't fit with their times.

Or so the scribes said.

His followers cowered in fear, hidden amongst the crowds - fearful of standing out.

So he stood there alone, repeating his message, living out his example to its dreadful conclusion.

And he went further, forgiving his accusers, forgiving his attackers.

The crowds were confused, unnerved.

Some walked away, better to just ignore it.

Other attached themselves to other causes, easier causes.

The leaders denounced him further, quietly nervous.

Hours past and his breaths thinned, as did the crowds.

Those that were left grieved a grief like no other.

They grieved for a Friend,

They grieved for The Cause.

The Revolution was over,

or so it seemed...

The Lamb's War

The Emperor's soldiers dragged him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they called together the whole band.

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,

And began to salute him, and derided him, "Hail, King of the Jews!"

And they struck him with heavy blows on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees taunted him.  And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and dragged him out to crucify him.

And they compelled Simon of Cyrene, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, sometimes called The Place of Adam's Skull.
And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.

And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.

And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

And the superscription of his accusation was written over,


And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

And the scripture was fulfilled, which says, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

And the crowds that passed by shouted, wagging their heads, and saying, "Ah, you that would destroy the temple, and build it in three days,"

"Save thyself, and come down from the cross."

Likewise also the chief priests known as Sanhedrin mocked him, saying among themselves with the scribes, "He saved others; himself he cannot save."

"Let this Messiah, this King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." And the petty criminals that were crucified with him reviled him.

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is, being interpreted, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, "Behold, he calleth Elias."

And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, "Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down."

And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

And when the Roman centurion, which stood watch over him, saw him cry out for God and pass away, he denied the title of his Emperor and said, "Truly this man was the Son of God."

There were also Jewish women holding vigil: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Cleophas;

And Joseph of Arimathaea, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had been waiting for the Kingdom of God, came by and was convinced. He went boldly unto Pilate, and requested the body of Jesus.

Jospeh of Arimathaea donated his tomb for burial, publicly accepting him into his family. His body was speedily prepared and taken to the tomb for the Sabbath was drawing on. And there they beheld him where he was laid.


Age of the Footwashers

 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me your Teacher and Master —and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them."
My thoughts today are focused on simplicity, humility and service of others - actions rather than words. Jesus taught that to live like this is to live in a new covenant - a new connectedness. It was a radical message to deliver amongst the splendour and hierarchy of Jerusalem - it would have been a massive departure from the Judaism and Roman religion of that era - but it was the legacy he intended to leave his followers. And the washing of the feet is a powerful symbol of this.

Last year Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Church, publicly washed the feet of his congregation - it was deeply moving to see him do this and drew people's attention to a different side of Christianity. In addition to other acts of service, perhaps more Christians need to engage in this public act throughout the year in their efforts to spread the core theme of the Good News?


Sheffield Defence League

Ignore the title, this is not a racist or sectarian campaign - not unless you count the good people of Doncaster as a separate race or religion. Which for the record, I don't.

I always pick up The Sheffield Star on returning home, and sometimes my family bring copies over for me to read. Anyway, a few days ago I was reading the letters section and a lady from Doncaster had written a letter slamming Sheffield in various ways - so I decided, half-jokingly I admit, to leap to its defence by writing a reply.

And in doing so, made my local newspaper debut.

Challenging the Tenants

Speaking in the Temple, the Lord Jesus Christ turning to the high priests, scribes, and elders of the people told them this parable.

There was a Landowner, Who planted a vineyard, set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.

When the season of fruit drew near, He sent his servants to the tenants to get His fruit; and the tenants took His servants and beat one, killed the other, and stoned another. Again, He sent other servants, more than the first, and they did the same.

Afterward, He sent His only Son to them saying, "They will respect my Son."

But when the tenants saw the Son, they said to each other, "This is the Heir. Come, let us kill Him, and have His inheritance." And they took Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard, and killed Him."

Having told the parable, the Saviour asked them, "When, therefore, the Owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?"

They said to Him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give Him the fruits in their season."

Jesus emphasized their answer, saying, "Therefore, I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation which will produce the fruits of it."

Then, the chief priests and Pharisees with the elders understood that the Saviour was speaking about them. In a rage, they tried to arrest Him, but they feared the multitude because the multitude considered Him to be a prophet.

The challenge to religious authority has resonance now. We continue to live in communities, and in a society, in which there exists religious institutions who claim authority over others - by and large, humans continue to organise themselves into a hierarchy of holiness and righteousness, attaching themselves to lists of black & white beliefs handed down by their masters.

Jesus taught that all were equal in God's eyes - each one of us has an innate ability to personally experience God first-hand, to discover 'inner truth' and to live out a life of faith in our own way. This doesn't mean an anything goes free-for-all but it does mean spiritual freedom from human-made dogma.

Again I wonder, what would he make of the religious authorities in Britain?


Spring Cleaning

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of worship,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12 - 13

Here's a question - if Jesus was alive today in Britain, what 'houses of worship' would he condemn? What temples would he seek to cleanse?
  • Or the celebrity bars of West London? After all, celebrity culture seems to be the new form of religion for many British people and celebrities are more often the public opinion formers and trendsetters than the clergy.


Procession of the Palms - Then, and Now

I've been reading The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The first few chapters look in part at the meaning of the Procession of the Palms - the First Day of 'Holy Week'.

The authors describe how the procession organised and lead by Jesus into Jerusalem was specifically designed to counter the show of Roman might put on at the beginning of each Passover to put off 'troublemakers'. So whilst Pontius Pilate and his legions of well-armed soldiers and cavalry were marching into Jerusalem from one side of the city, Jesus rode a donkey (an animal symbolising peace) with his peasant followers walking beside him and supporters throwing palm leaves in front (the palm leaf being a Roman sign of victory).

We know now what all this lead to, to a historic clash of two visions of faith, politics and society - two visions of how humanity should live - the vision of a self-serving elite against the vision of a just, compassionate God. As Muslims from Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria have poured out of their mosques to protest against their rulers, I think many paralells can be drawn between this ancient Middle Eastern event and what has been happening in the Middle East today. The clash is far from over. And we, as 'Ordinary Radicals', are called to continue the same struggle as we leave our church buildings and meeting houses.