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.

30/06/2011

Back to the Future Britain

In 1987, during the Thatcher years, the Religious Society of Friends in Britain agreed in session at London Yearly Meeting to issue the following statement:

"Quakers in Britain have felt called to issue this statement in order to address a matter of urgent national priority to promote debate and to stimulate action.

We are angered by actions which have knowingly led to the polarisation of our country - into the affluent, who epitomise success according to the values of a materialistic society, and the 'have-leasts', who by the expectations of that same society are oppressed, judged, found wanting and punished.

We value that of God in each person, and affirm the right of everyone to contribute to society and share in life's good things, beyond the basic necessities.

We commit ourselves to learning again the spiritual value of each other. We find ourselves utterly at odds with the priorities in our society which deny the full human potential of millions of people in this country. That denial diminishes us all. There must be no 'them' and 'us'.

We appreciate the stand taken by other churches and we wish to work alongside them.

As a Religious Society and as individuals we commit ourselves to examine again how we use our personal and financial resources. We will press for change to enable wealth and power to be shared more evenly within our nation. We make this statement publicly at a time of national decision [a general election] in the hope that, following the leadings of the Spirit, each one of us in Britain will take appropriate action."

Resonance.

Basic Rights, Not Bonuses

Placing my politics somewhere on the moderate centre (occasionally further rightwards, occasionally further leftwards), I am not not usually inclined to quote the socialist Morning Star

But today I feel great affinity with the nurses, town hall porters, teachers, civil service admin staff and so on who have bravely taken industrial action, following attempts by the coalition government to force them into shouldering a disproportionate burden of a financial crisis brought on by the political and economic elites - just as every ordinary citizen who depends on public services for their health, education, community services etc. is now expected to pay more tax for less. Whilst failing banks continue to use taxpayer's money to fuel cavalier bonuses.

This crisis has cast a light on the true nature of our political class. We have seemingly elected a government of aristocratic millionaires and career politicians to 'mend' our economy, people most untouched by the recession and most close to the big business that caused it. They have a vision for how to fix 'Broken Britain', but it is not in keeping with the vision or in the interests of the commoner - and so this will inevitably lead to a polarisation of society, a drift to more radical politics, and the onset of unrest & conflict.

And whilst the equally-elitist opposition party shamefully dithers as the mainstream press dutifully falls into line with their oligarch owners, the Morning Star is one of the last real voices of opposition standing, calling it right on this occasion:
"Striking teachers, lecturers and civil servants served notice on politicians today that they will not be sacrificial lambs for capitalism's crisis.

The workers who took action were defending not only their modest pension schemes but also our hard-won public services.

Big business and the politicians who defend its interests, irrespective of what party label they wear, are inspired by two motives.

The first is to force public-sector workers and citizens who depend on the services they deliver to finance the deficit caused by bankers' reckless adventurism.

They are pulling a classic politicians' fast one by trying to transform in the public consciousness a crisis associated with the private financial sector into a question about the justice or sustainability of the public sector.

The second is to devalue public-sector workers' pensions arrangements so as to make privatisation more profitable and thus more likely.

Private-sector vultures intent on tearing into the body of our public services constantly complain to politicians about the cost of maintaining pension schemes when taking over operations from the state.

They would like to emulate the scandalous treatment in recent years of workers' pensions in the private sector.

What took place with regard to occupational pensions in the private sector is scandalous, with schemes closed to new entrants and final-salary arrangements all but eradicated.

Then there's the companies that walked away from their responsibilities, leaving tens of thousands of workers bereft of pensions they had paid for.

Add to that the history of financial institutions mis-selling private pensions to individuals and it is clear that the private sector is the last area to serve as a model for the public sector.

When Tory ministers assert that even if they have their way in forcing workers to pay more for longer and for reduced rewards, teachers and civil servants will still have some of the best pensions around, this just emphasises how much damage has already been done to pensions in the private sector.

The Con-Dem government is encouraging a race to the bottom because it sees workers' pensions as an inconvenient burden on business and the exchequer.

In fact, pensions for all workers are simply deferred wages, which have to be defended against the government's premeditated, politically motivated windfall tax.

The only windfall tax meriting support is one on the super-profits of the energy companies' oligopoly, the banking sector and the rapacious supermarkets.

It beggars belief that the politicians and big-business media can keep a straight face when they unite to denounce public-sector pensions as gold-plated or unaffordable.

Research group Income Data Services points out that FTSE 100 directors can rely on average pensions of £170,000 a year, while MPs will still have a pension scheme that knocks those for teachers and civil servants into a cocked hat.

How enlightening it would be if every Mail or Telegraph leader writer and TV commentator who joins the gang-up against public-sector workers' pensions were made to disclose their own salary and pension arrangements.

The same goes for the front-bench politicians who make a huge song and dance about their marginal differences while uniting in opposition to the justice of the public-sector workers' case and to their reluctant decision to strike to get their voices heard.

Today's splendid action was the first battle in a long campaign to defend our public sector and those work in it."

26/06/2011

Our Majestic Story

Tonight I watched the first instalment of the BBC's 'Wonders of the Universe' series with the inspirational Brian Cox (originally of D:Ream fame) - styled, I'm guessing, on Carl Sagan's groundbreaking 'Cosmos' series.

In short, it was both mind-boggling and moving. Probably the best piece of television I have watched in living memory. This is why we pay a license fee.

The End of History - Chapter. 432

The 1917 Russian Revolutions can be traced directly back to 1905, with the 'Bloody Sunday' massacre in St. Petersburg where peaceful protesters were gunned down by the Russian Imperial Guard. What followed was over a decade of protests, strikes and insurgency. The Tsarist government responded with bouts of reform and oppression - offering limited concessions with the one hand, and whilst striking deadly blows with the other.

All that the Russian people sought were basic civil and economic rights - to have a say in how they were governed, to enjoy protection of the law, to be able to openly express their beliefs and opinions, to have jobs, to have food on the table - to have a measure of justice, freedom and dignity in their lives. The same needs and wants sought by so many others across the ages. What the writers of the Bible term as 'shalom' - complete, all-permeating peace.

Their struggle against a tyrannical monarchist ideology lasted twelve whole years.

And what followed this was seventy-four years of domination under the banner of a new idealistic yet equally tyrannical ideology, an ideology that many were seduced by, an ideology that offered a dream of utopia - 'Marxism'.

Since 1991, the Russian people have continued to struggle for basic civil and economic rights against a new more-pragmatist ideology of oligarchy, capitalism and nationalism - 'United Russia'.

The point? 

The struggle for justice, freedom and dignity can take decades, centuries even.

Revolution is no quick fix.

Domination systems will fall, but there is always the risk that new ones will emerge in their place.

The peoples of the Middle East face a long march towards justice, freedom and dignity. If we peoples of Europe and North America are to truly help, then our commitment will have to be long-term and our actions carefully taken with an eye on the past and future.

23/06/2011

"Dear Friend, I choose you..."

I've always felt Christian, I've always read the Bible and had it read to me. Yet readings from the Bible have never moved me almost to tears, never really hit a nerve.

But tonight, sat on the back rows in a Methodist church at a prayer and reflection service attended mainly by young Catholics, I quite casually listened to the speaker read these words from John 15:
Jesus said,
"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other."
 No sermon. No analysis. Just 119 powerful words, 501 characters. Much much more than a tweet.

21/06/2011

Signs for the Times

Scott Wells posted yesterday on possible Christian emblems for a new church he is intending to plant. It got me thinking about Christian symbolism.

For most Christians, the cross is the symbol of the faith. Despite the lingering discomfort I feel about the cross, which at first glance presents itself literally as an imperial instrument used to inflict a torturous death upon our fellow humans, I have come to appreciate the cross for its metaphorical meaning within Christianity - I get it, kind of. The Christian cross, particularly in its most simple form (the empty wooden cross), is a sign of 

     self-sacrifice, 

          dying to a new way of life,

               resistance to false gods and their kingdoms,

                    redemption, renewal and return to our true selves through God.


These are all themes that are found throughout the Torah and the Gospel. However, for many Christians, the cross also symbolises bloody atonement for sins and related doctrine - something which I wholeheartedly reject because I think it points to a cruel, petty God rather than the graceful, mysterious God of the Gospel.

So in short, I have mixed feelings about the cross.

Which leads me to the alternatives. I personally find more positive meaning in the Ichthys.



It is a sign of

     the simplicity of Christian witness - giving to others, regardless

          alongside

               the spirit of fraternity 

                   and 

                        the spirit of resistance

all lived out by the Early Christians in the shadows of the Roman Empire.

I also find meaning in the Star of Bethlehem. In thinking about the story of the Magi, it occurs to me that symbolism can be found in the star as a sign of 

     the hope that inspires a long, arduous journey,

            the realisation, after a long struggle, that "God is with us."


Lastly, there is the dove as metaphor for the Spirit of God. Years ago, on looking into the Unitarian / UU flaming chalice, I found the following rendition of the dove.


If I had to pick a symbol of my Christian faith, maybe I would pick this - as a sign of

     the pursuit of pure peace,

               the freeing and uplifting of the soul through God,

                         love for the world around us, particularly the vulnerable,

all messages so often expressed by Jesus in his words and actions.

Ultimately, though, it could be said that Christianity means all these things - and that no symbol will suffice. It is, I feel, a testament to the beauty of the Gospel, that a bunch of ancient (seemingly crackpot) stories can continue to have such rich, powerful and personal resonance for ordinary people today.

Which is why the Quakers, and their preference for the blank canvas over any emblems, might not be so quirky and far out after all.


12/06/2011

Free Christian Wiki

I spent an hour this morning trying to clean up the Free Christian wikipedia article which was messy to say the least - I just wish there were more Free Christian churches to talk about.

08/06/2011

Dynasty or Democracy?

Following the shocking-for-some-but-not-for-republicans news that William Windsor and Kate Middleton plan to move into Kensington Palace and hire servants, Sophia Deboick, writing in the Guardian today, makes some important points about the fundamental nature of monarchy which the British public subjectry seems to have willingly overlooked (or have been cajoled into overlooking by a good media campaign):

"The wedding itself showed us what we are really dealing with here. This was purely about securing heirs and shoring up the hereditary principle. It was about continuity, not change. Kate being given her mother-in-law's engagement ring could hardly make the point more starkly that William and Kate are just part of the unchanging pattern that defines monarchy. As the patsies in this sordid arrangement, this couple are about as anti-modern as can be imagined. They are willingly accepting that one of their children will be head of state simply through accident of birth – something that defies every principle of modern democracy. If William himself is intending to become our head of state without referring to the will of the British people, he has little grasp of the sort of values that most deem to be fundamental – fairness and justice."

"Ultimately, there is nothing modern about a hereditary head of state and there is no modern kind of monarchy. Monarchy is always the same – that is its point – and to a younger generation facing bleak economic prospects, the narrative of William and Kate being a modernising force as they go on to employ a legion of personal staff rings hollow indeed."

If Britain truly aspires to be a fair, just and wholly-democratic society then the stark conclusion we must reach is that there's nothing British about monarchy.

05/06/2011

Ode to 'Ordinary' Things

“Science and art may invent splendid modes of illuminating 
the apartments of the opulent: 
but these are all poor and worthless 
compared with the common light 
which the sun sends into all our windows, 
which pours freely, 
impartially over hill and valley, 
which kindles daily the eastern and western sky;
and so the common lights of reason, and conscience, and love, 
are of more worth and dignity 
than the rare endowments which give celebrity to a few.”
 --William Channing, Unitarian Christian clergyman
.