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.


Quaker Week

I am currently in the process of reading Jean Hatton's biography of George Fox, which is proving to be very interesting not just in her portrayal of this 'English Prophet' but also in her descriptions of the context (the English Civil War period) in which he lived. Glancing from book onto the net, I stumbled across an article I found interesting
which then somehow led me to this:
I'd just been reading about Elizabeth Hooton in the biography mentioned above so this was of interest to me - I do think it's important that the female dissenters and campaigners of the past, at times operating in climate where some men believed that women had no souls, are championed for their audacity of hope (to steal a phrase).
    It had passed me by, but it seems the Religious Society of Friends in Britain are holding a 'National Quaker Week' from the 1st to the 11th of October (or Tenth Month, as traditional Quakers might call it) - this being the fifth event of its kind. I think it's a good idea - the entire community coming together in collective enterprise and opening their doors to the wider public, and in doing so, gaining some local and national media attention.

    It's an initiative that Unitarian & Free Christian churches could perhaps follow.



    "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson


    Martineau's Echo

    I regularly check the blog of Micah Bales, The Lamb's War, and read with interest his summary of community life at Capital Hill Friends. This Quaker community combines traditional silent worship with services of the more traditional church variety. I find something particularly powerful in these two paragraphs, even as an outsider looking in from thousands of miles away:
    "Something new is emerging at Capitol Hill Friends. It does not fit neatly into the old binaries of 20th century Quakerism. Rather than getting bogged down in fights between Liberals and Evangelicals, we are simply trying to follow Jesus. This feels risky, because he leads us to unfamiliar places. But there is freedom here, too.

    Jesus releases us from the culture wars that are tearing at the fabric of the United States, including the Quaker community. Jesus sets us free from dogmatic worldviews that make us feel both secure and terribly afraid. As we lean on Jesus, we are liberated from the need to fit our lives into tidy little boxes - or to confine others to them. He uproots the seeds of war, whose roots have sunk so deep into our hearts that we hardly notice them anymore."
    This sounds a lot like what I hope for when I see the 'Free Christian' part of 'Unitarian & Free Christian'.


    Faithful Liberalism

    If I had to explain my views on faith I would try to come up with something like this...

    What David Usher says is reasonable, plain speaking, gentle, and respectful. And unlike the stereotypical free-thinker, he is not wooly, doesn't go round the houses, and avoids being breathy!

    David Usher has a written version here also.

    God Talk

    Yesterday I was asked by a group of children, out-of-the-blue and on video camera,

    "Do you believe in an after-life?"

    to which responded with, 

    "I don't know."

    End of discussion. It's funny because even with close family and most trusted friends, there is a hesitancy to engage in 'God Talk'. It's become a taboo, a reflection of our secularised culture. And yet in hindsight, I think when you are asked in such a straight-up non-judgemental way, it's liberating - you're left thinking,

    "I wish I'd said more..."

    Had I been feeling more confident - and particularly eloquent - I would have perhaps quoted Hay Quaker quoting Doug Muder:
    "At times like these it is important to remember the difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is an expectation of the future, but hope is a way of experiencing the present. Optimism assures us that the oasis we see in the distance is not a mirage, but hope simply inspires us to keep going. Optimism promises specific outcomes, but hope just says that striving is worthwhile, that whether or not good things will happen, creating opportunity is a good thing in itself.
    Optimism often lies, but hope never fails. Optimism argues with the predictions of cynicism and bitterness, and is often proved wrong. Hope rejects cynicism and bitterness as unhelpful, and is perennially proved right.

    Hope cares for the eggs without counting the chickens that might come from them. Hope plants as wisely as it can, knowing that the rains and the harvest are uncertain. Hope is—right here and right now, whatever may happen in the future—a better way to live."
    If I'd had two trees, a shovel, a small plot of land - and a watering can? - I might have even gone one step further.

    I think people of the West today, living in the kind of material luxury our ancestors would have viewed as heaven, yet also existing in societies blighted by depressed and disaffection, do need to pose the bigger questions. We are conditioned into viewing idealistic people as somehow odd - as naive fantasists. Yet I think we all have that quiet nagging sense of something bigger and a need for hopeful answers - no matter what shape they may take. We just tend not to say so.

    Church of The Holy Future?

    I know very little of the substance and services here, but I'm guessing the architectural design of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester - situated on the ground floor of a modern office block - will probably draw 'Marmite responses' from Unitarians and other Christian-types.

    I can already hear the argument that the more ancient Unitarian & Free Christian chapels of the British Isles should be preserved not just for their historic value, but because they were built by our ancestors at considerable cost and have been hallowed by prayer for centuries. There's much truth in this line of thinking.

    That said, I like the simplicity and pragmatic nature of Cross Street Chapel. The chapel inside actually looks very 'Quakeresque' being very plain and with a centrally-focused, circular seating plan. And although I don't know whether it's a rented or an owned space, I would imagine the costs for preserving the chapel are less of a burden than more ancient buildings like Ullet Road Church with its beautiful, tens of thousands of pounds worth of, windows. Ultimately a church building is just another block of bricks and mortar - it's the community inside that counts.


    A Global Prayer

    Today is Global Day of Prayer, and the day before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There are so many stories from that fateful day - and since then in the thousands of lives changed, and lost, in the aftermath. Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Church, was there on the day and shares his experiences:

    The Daily Mail also has a moving, thought-provoking piece today about the so-called 'jumpers' from that day.


    Stand in thy lot...

    Today's early morning blog is a re-blog (if such a term exists) of one of the many inspiring posts by Boston Unitarian:
    "Be content to stand in your lot. Whatever it may be, there is work in it enough for one to perform. It is your work, and if done in a Christian spirit there is ample opportunity to build up faith and piety in your own soul, and to bless your fellow-men. If you aspire to what you think a better lot, the way to reach it is by being faithful where you are. But be sure, that no lot to which duty calls you can in its essential nature be excluded from the highest good. A noble spirit ennobles the humblest condition, and a mean spirit alone makes the lot mean. A wonderful fact! It seems as if it had been to disabuse the world, and to exorcise it of its false views of human conditions, that the Saviour of man was born in a manger; that his ministry was in the obscure land of Judaea; that by the way-side, along the lake-shore, among humble men, he subjected himself to poverty; that he washed his disciples' feet; that he died on a cross; and in all places lost not his own divinity, but made the event divine.

    Whatever then your lot may be, so that it come to you in the simple way of duty, do not contemn it, but honor it, and by your fidelity in it make it honorable. All real duties come in the order of a providential appointment, and take their character, not from the measurements of human vanity, but from God who appoints them. He can be worshipped as devoutly in the humble way-side church, as in the great cathedral; and so also he may be served as truly in the obcurest duty as in that whose performance wins the plaudits of the world. Leave to others to labor in their lot, and for yourself be satisfied to stand in your own; fulfilling its duties; enlarging it by your fidelity; contented to stand there while it is your lot; there to serve God, and to be useful among men." --Ephraim Peabody


    Bonza Airways

    And in other news - a paraplegic man has flown from England to Australia in a microlight:


    Brooms not Swords

    Although I was faraway from the UK at the time, the riots did not go unnoticed. I have blogged in the past at what I consider to be 'broken elements' of our society (speaking as someone who has long worked at grassroots level with those people often labelled 'underclass') but never expected such an outpouring of anger - and greed, and malice. 

    Being in China whilst the violent disorder was taking place, a country we in the West so often view as somehow 'backwards', challenged me further. The Chinese state - for all the much-documented political, social and cultural issues - continues to place emphasis on education as a way of improving lives, the stability offered to society from stable families and the need to promote 'harmony' between different cultures and ethnicities.

    Although often misdirected and exploited, seeing these distinctly Confucian values actively used to envision and shape society (new housing, public spaces for families to enjoy together, the restoration of minority city neighbourhoods, the active creation of jobs) got me thinking about the values we hold collectively in the UK. I don't believe the riots were simply about economic poverty - after all, most of the rioters have much more than the average Chinese, Indian, Latin American or African. What we are dealing with is a poverty of morals / ethics ("Who are we to judge?"), poverty of aspiration ("There's nothing out there for me..."), poverty of democratic identity ("I don't do politics. Politicians are useless and corrupt. Nothing will change."), poverty of trust in education ("School did me no good.") and poverty of hope ("Things are only going to get worse...").

    And there is no quick-fix solution. More laws and police won't do it, nor will simply throwing more money at poorer communities (via incompetent Local Authorities and wasteful quangos) do it either. It ultimately comes down to better, braver education of young people, and where necessary, their families. It also comes down to re-establishing the principle of personal responsibility. And the big one - worthwhile jobs (which you cannot simply rely on the market to create).

    I could go on but time constraints due to work, and the fact so many better words have been said and written by others already, leads me to leave it there - with one last note:

    During the moments of despair we may enter when thinking about the situation, we have to remember there are grounds for optimism - seen in the people who worked hard to heal individuals and communities in the aftermath. Stephen Lingwood, a minister working in Bolton (near Manchester), is a fine example of this - "the broom is mightier than the sword..."