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.


Jerusalem Remixed

I've not felt I've had much time to blog recently - too much rushing around on work projects. However, there are two articles from the newspapers that I do want to give mention to.

Tim Lott wrote an article on a progressive, inclusive English nationalism in the Independent yesterday - "I'm proud of my country – the land of Blake, Dickens, Orwell, and Ian Dury" - and it's one I feel sums up my own (pretty woolly) nationalistic feelings. One of having a sense of place, a sense of shared culture - rather than one based on land, ethnicity or religion. Interestingly enough, when I taught in Liverpool with some very disaffected students, we ran a 'Sense of Place' unit each summer (part of a citywide competition) which involved touring around the city in a mini-bus taking photos of iconic and quite ordinary places, talking about them as we went along, and then returning to the classroom to write poetry about them. It proved to be one of the most successful topics with the students, for most of whom English Literature was an immediate turn-off, and on occasion produced some inspired efforts. It seems, as Tim Lott says, "we all ache to fuse ourselves with something above and beyond us, which we can take pride in and draw a sense of self-respect from..."

This followed an article by Peter Oborne in the Telegraph which I read this earlier week or the week and has stuck in my mind ever since. The article looked at the immense divisions of wealth in Brtain - "The rise of the overclass" - with reference to particular areas of the English heartlands that have in many ways become enclaves for the super-rich. I think this article reflects the current sense of unfairness with 'how things are', and taps into our disillusionment - the fascination the general public once had with the likes of Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich and co is perhaps turning to a quiet anger.

It's hard to know whether we are really living in radical times, whether we (as Europeans, as British, as English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish etc., as Earthlings even) are on the cusp of a reimagining of ourselves and the little worlds we live in - as the saying goes, history will be the judge of that - but it sometimes feels like maybe we are seeing the green shoots of a revolution (of sorts).


Save the Quakers

Tomorrow is a momentous day for the Quakers - not the religious group, but the football team from Darlington who go under this nickname. It is momentous because they still exist. 

Theirs is a story of how English football, a national passion, has gone so wrong. Bought in 1999 by former safe-cracker turned millionaire, George Reynolds, Darlington FC - a small community club - were then uprooted in 2003 to play in a 25,000 capcity stadium (initially named the Reynolds Arena) outside of the town. Isn't this just another example of the gamble-everything-chasing-imagined-riches capitalism that we've seen time and time again this past fifteen years? And what would the influential Quaker ancestors of the town, in all their modesty, have made of it all?

Darlington FC have since been lumbered with this white elephant and successive financial crises - and now this 128 year old club faces oblivion. Tomorrow I will be going to Hillsborough to watch Sheffield Wednesday FC and there is a collection for poor old Darlo - and there are some details here for anyone else wishing to get involved in trying to fuel a fan buyout and rescue package.



This week has been a busy one in work, in terms of having to concentrate all my thought on an important project. Fortunately, on Youtube I stumbled across Manchester band, Elbow, playing with the BBC Concert Orchestra - which helped in terms of respite and focusing my attention. The word 'beautiful' is perhaps overused in our culture - and it is ultimately in the eye, and ear, of the beholder - but I think it fits quite well with this:



"As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from government intrusion." --Stewart Dalzell

For further info, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech


Protestant Work Syndrome

Poor mental health is a common yet hidden problem in Britain, often relating to our culture - namely the 'Protestant work ethic' which has so many people working, often out of anxiety, towards meeting ever-shifting targets without sufficient rest or play. 

Yet unlike so many other issues, mental health is no cause célèbre - no musicians, royals or actors are organising concerts for mental health charities, probably because they "don't want to get tarred with the mad brush" (as the comedy character Alan Partridge once said). 

However, hopefully the new 'Time to Change' ad campaign by Rethink and Mind will help trigger a culture shift:

soil & blood, or Spirit?

Recently I read The Spark in The Clod by Jabez T. Sunderland, a Baptist-turned-Unitarian minister from Yorkshire who emigrated with his family to the USA in the late in the mid 1800s. It was a book that I initially started reading for historical reasons, to gain insight into the debate during his era over the connections between the emerging science of evolution and Christian faith - and to simply read the English language of old (a quirky interest of mine). A sort of looking glass into an age I have much interest in. But it turned out to be much more than that.

Although clearly speaking from a 19th Century perspective (with the odd reference to the now discredited racial eugenics of that era), Jabez T. Sunderland broadly articulates a vision of humankind very much in keeping with more modern theories coming from organisations such as The Centre of Progressive Christianity and The Centre for Process Studies. His basic premise is that humankind is caught up in the laws of evolution, progressing both in the material and spiritual sense, but also acting as a participant in the creative process- we are shaped by the changing world, but as creatures of free will with a high level of reason & conscience we can also act to shape it.

So with this having recently passed through my mind, I stood talking to an older, wiser friend yesterday about the Scottish National Party's campaign for Scottish independence - he is the direct descendants of Irish immigrants to England and commented that growing up with Northern Ireland, the rise of the National Front in England (linked in with immigration from Commonwealth countries) and European integration all as constant news topics left him thinking (and hoping) that this was all part of humankind's evolution to a place in time where tribes, competing nation-states, rival civilisations etc. became a thing of the past, where humankind realises it shares a common Spirit that transcends all other differences.  This has always been my thought and prayer, and still is.

And this is why despite my support for the Scots' right to choose their future, there is a question (alluded to here and here) over the campaign for Scottish independence - unbowed by all the politically-correct talk of Alex Salmond and co - of where it ultimately finds its source? Is it primarily a pragmatic campaign about greater democracy and economic justice, one which I would support wholeheartedly, or is it a campaign that goes back to ideas of soil and blood?


Plainly Good TV

Two programmes I watched recently were 'When Bankers Were Good' from the BBC (which focuses in part on Quaker banking) and 'Living with the Amish' from Channel 4. In these troubling social and economic times we live in (I write this thinking, "when have they never not been troubling?"), both were relevant, thought-provoking - and inspirational - documentaries.

The BBC and Channel 4 both have a public-service remit and I think this is when we really see the benefits of that kind of media set-up. I was also pleased to see a positive programme about teenagers - one in which they weren't set up primarily for on-air conflict and scandal (like 'Jamie's Dream School', for example).

I, Seeker

I've read with interest the collective soul-searching (here, here, here and here) that is starting to take place amongst some Unitarian / UU bloggers regarding what it means to be a church, and what it means to be a member.There are so many questions raised by these posts.
  • What brings us here? Theology, politics, social action? God? Or are we just ticking a 'I go to church' box? Are we an inclusive church (by that I mean a called gathering of all sections of society) or a white middle-class fringe group?
  • Are we about changing the world? Are we out there getting our hands dirty? Or are we all about finding ourselves - chasing some euphoric encounter with an undemanding Sacred Other?
  • In our communities do we uncover Truth and allow ourselves to be challenged by it? Or are we just 'making up' niceties based on what feels most comfortable and affirming to how we are now at this present moment in time?
On reading the various posts, my internal dialogue was basically saying "yeh I'm thinking and feeling that too, hit 'em with it!" but also "um yeh, I'm guilty of that too, that's me and my relationship with the Unitarian church in a nutshell." I think this conversation both speaks to my condition - and awakens me to it.


    A Texan Prophet, of sorts

    John Lindell has long been a source of inspiration for me - I've read and re-read his work over and over on his site The Human Jesus and Christian Deism. Having walked away from them in earlier years, I can't help but think he is a big loss to the Unitarian / UU church.

    I've now found an interview with him on Youtube, and his speaking is as inspirational as his writing.

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

    Part 4:

    Part 5:


    Sack Race

    Diane Abbott MP has apparently made some insensitive, arguably racist comments on Twitter amidst the discussion taking place following the conviction of some of Stephen Lawrence's killers. From the bits I've read, she does seem to have got stuck in a 'them and us' mindset. And her references to 19th century colonialism to justify her ill-received tweet strike me as nothing more than someone trying to make a rash remark sound well thought-out - it suggests a lack of humility.

    But the calls for her to be sacked are as hysterical as the calls for Jeremy Clarkson to be sacked following his comments about strikers. There really needs to be a line drawn here between foolish people and hateful people. If people are going to start losing their jobs for occasionally saying something foolish, then we're all likely to be unemployed by the end of the month.

    In most situations a retraction and apology - a straightforward 'sorry, my bad' would suffice. Whether career politicians like Diane Abbott can manage that - or our scandal-hungry, adversarial media will allow it - remains to be seen.


    Revival, of sorts

    I read with interest Peter Oborne's article on the apparent resurgence of some churches in the UK (despite other reports this week on an apparent decline in Christianity amongst the general population). The comments of James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, towards the end of the article particularly struck a chord:

    “I’m firmly of the view there’s a spiritual impulse in everybody. But this impulse is episodic. For instance at times of bereavement or trouble, people open up and become more sensitive to the Christian faith. I believe the same happens with society. When the material world gets knocked people are forced to think again and that’s when Christianity does have something important to say. People are aware there’s a big shift in society coming along, even though they might not understand it. So I’m not surprised that the ground is now more fertile for the spread of the Christian message.” 

    And it seems he is putting his time & money (or the Anglican Church's at least) where his mouth is with the re-opening of St James in the City, which interestingly enough lies in the shadow of Liverpool's grandiose, faux-ancient Anglican cathdral, but is being refounded on the 'new' missional way of 'doing church'. 

    As a side note, during my time in Liverpool I used to go jogging past St James', which is situated just up from the River Mersey, and has stood abandoned seemingly for a long time. An overriding memory of the place is the time I ran past late at night and a black ghost-like plastic bag blew out of the gates and across my path, which after recovering from a stumble and a quick check to make sure nobody had seen me embarrass myself, helped increase my stride!

    I have experienced, as a drop-in visitor, this kind of Anglican 'restart' church first-hand and I think it, at least in part, counters the argument - put forward in some 'Post-Christian' Unitarian circles - that Christianity is somehow past it, that something else needs embracing to be 'popular' (a bizarre argument really, given we are ultimately talking about deeply rooted faith and traditions which cannot simply be deconstructed / reconstructed in the same way you would with consumer products). 

    I have always hoped that avowedly liberal / radical Christian churches including that which I call my own, the Unitarian & Free Christian church, could remodel some of their congregations in a similar way with a view to revival. But to even begin that process you need the will and the means, which for a tiny, scattered and ageing denomination with a confused sense of self and limited human & financial resources, is not going to be easy. It may well be that other denominations, such as the Baptists, Quakers and United Reformed Church - in which there are tolerated and celebrated liberal / radical tendencies (increasingly glued together by the Progressive Christian network), move forward from where Martineau et al left off.


    Time of Change?

    "Christians are supposed not merely to endure change, nor even to profit by it, but to cause it." 
    -- Harry Emerson Fosdick