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.


No Easter, No Christianity?

Although 'favourite' is often used as quite a trivial word (the phrase "my favourite Quality Street chocolate is..." immediately springs to mind), I can't find another word - so I'll say it, Marcus Borg is my favourite Christian writer. Aside perhaps from the collective efforts of Quaker Faith & Practice (the British version) that is. 

What I like about Marcus Borg is he's a liberal / progressive theologian that hasn't "thrown the baby out with the bath water" - he manages that balancing act between re-interpreting the Christian story whilst not deconstructing it to a point there's nothing left (something I think John Shelby Spong is prone to). He is both pragmatic and mystical in his interpretations, which in many ways sums up the continuing appeal of the Christian faith.

So a few weeks ago I went looking for new writings by Marcus Borg on the 'Easter moment' - I didn't find anything but today stumbled upon this article, simply titled "Reflection on Easter". It's an article that in classic Marcus Borg style, affirms my initial understanding yet takes me much much further.

I find especially challenging the argument he makes that without Easter, Christianity loses its meaning. Perhaps before this Easter this was me, I had effectively ditched Easter and in doing so, found myself feeling somehow disconnected from Christianity. This Easter has in some ways been a painful experience (relatively speaking!) but through recognising this, I am finding myself discovering new insights and seeing the cause of Christianity from a new perspective. Although shaky, I now 'get it', we do have to arrive at a state of being (a state of openness and realisation, rather than self-delusion might I add) where we walk side-by-side with Jesus, grasping him as a present reality in our lives rather than studying him as we would with other long-dead purveyor of maxims..


Walking with Cleopas

Following my recent post on connecting with the 'Easter moment', I was struck by this piece of ministry by Martin Kelley which I stumbled upon over at Quaker Ranter today:
"It seems to me there are three essen­tial com­po­nents to the Jesus biog­ra­phy: the teacher, the mar­tyr and the res­ur­rected Spirit. When we dis­miss or dis­count one piece, we limit our under­stand­ing and moti­va­tion to act.
This speaks to my condition at this moment, having not really connected with Easter this year, and coincidentally, having hit a period of intense uncertainty & doubt over aspects of my life.

This morning I also took part in a very simple act of communion at a local Baptist church (literally a loaf of bread broken up and some wine in glasses) - following the taking of communion at my brother's local Anglican church last week. Again, it spoke to my condition, it was something I had felt called to do - despite, to put it bluntly, previously deciding communion was an outdated, weird, excluding ritual (mainly due to the complex theology some churches attach to it). It was an act of commitment, an act of opening myself up.

As a side note, I readily admit I am somewhat nomadic in my church attendance at the moment, perhaps living out the Free Christian path to its limits - and perhaps, if I have time, I will pay this attention at some point over the coming weeks via this blog.

I think, as someone steeped in nearly a decade of particularly rationalist, individualistic Unitarian Christianity, I have lost connection with the more mystical and communal aspects of Christianity, the simple connection I had as a child - connection with Jesus, the man, the ideal, The Christ. Of course, adulthood arguably requires a different kind of connection, but sometimes we can get lost in the detail, intellectualising things and demanding proof, over-thinking ourselves into cynicism - a bit like Thomas the Apostle did, a bit like the hungry ghosts of Buddhism - when really we need to take a leap of faith, become more trusting,

and let God do the leading.


Core Questions

I've just seen this post over at the Cranmer blog - I read the Cranmer blog because the author, Adrian Hilton, is thoughtful in his posts and because I enjoy his writing style. He comes from a traditional Anglican, conservative politics angle - and I regularly disagree with him. But then again, I also read many blogs and newspaper comment pieces that I disagree with - I do this naturally because I find it much more educating than surrounding myself with like-minded folk.

I'm not so concerned with Cranmer's views on the subject of homosexuality, he is entitled to his personal opinions even if they are wrong. However, what concerns me is that there are Christians out there so obsessed with the issue of homosexuality that they are now organising themselves and attempting to spend money plastering their anti-homosexuality views across buses in London. The group in this particular case calls itself the 'Core Issues Trust'.

I think such groups really need to break out of their bubble and consider, in prayer and reading of scripture, what they're doing.

For a start, they need to re-consider their priorities. Could they be using the money spent on these campaigns to much more constructive causes, to positively change people's lives rather than sit in judgement of other people? What matters most, people's sex lives or people fighting to simply live?

And secondly, by obsessing over this issue, are they tying Christianity together with homosexuality in such a way that they misrepresent the core messages of 'the faith'? Have they become the proverbial false prophets? The reality is there is sound evidence that the New Testament, the text that in Christian eyes effectively supersedes the Old Testament, does not speak with any measure of clarity on homosexuality or marriage - this does mean to say it is 'pro gay' but nor does it make it 'anti gay'. And if we look beyond specific quotes, we have to ask what spirit is the New Testament  written in? What are the recurring, over-arching themes?

Finally, I guess the debate also comes down to what Quakers call 'continuous revelation' - is the Christian faith completely fixed in time and place, or does it 'flex'? Is Christianity ultimately about laws carved in stone, or is it more about human experience? Is, as the United Church of Christ says, God still speaking?


Post-Easter struggles

Easter has been and gone, and this I week I've mused that for many of us now the real battle is on to either eat our chocolate eggs in moderation or eat them all in one go so as to get back on the healthy eating drive! There's clearly something funny and peverse in this, given the Easter story and what it can be reduced to 2000 years on.

I admit I struggle with Easter theologically, and during this time try to seek socio-political readings of the event - particularly those from the Progressive Christian school of thought. I'm also willing to admit that beyond this I tend to actively switch off to the Easter story because it's perplexing - I've got a pragmatic, problem-solving brain and I know throwing a conundrum like Easter into it is not a healthy move! And for that reason, Easter usually becomes a time where I 1) marvel at the 'ballsiness' of the story of a young Rabbi taking on the might of the Jewish hierarchy and their Roman sponsors  2) give up chocolate for 40 days (this year for less) and then gorge on chocolate come Easter Sunday.

However, it so happened that this year my Easter Sunday was spent at an Anglican church in London (due to family commitments) - one that is thriving through a mix of modern worship, traditional theology and most importantly,  run by a bunch of friendly, missional people. The theme of the service was 'Love Wins' (deliberately taken from Rob Bell I guess) and the sense of joy emanating from the congregation really took me aback - they weren't thinking through Easter, they were connecting with it.

It furthered my spiritual understanding of Easter and why fellow Christians are so gripped by it - that God does not stand outside of the human experience, truly God is within. Micah Bales provides a useful explanation of it here and Andrew Brown also provides another take here, and it's one that I'm going to try to meditate on. Not in an act of self-brainwashing, but rather to widen and deepen my understanding of this period in the Christian calendar.


What's the story?

I mentioned last week that a senior Quaker was invited to speak to the Annual Meeting for Unitarians & Free Christians in Britain. The full text of the address can be accessed here. I think it is a pretty robust explanation, and questioning, of liberal (Christian) religion. 

You may also note that, for all their liberalism, 1) British Quakers very much still 'do God', they believe the Divine is at work within their community 2) British Quakers have a strong sense of their history & their continuing mission - they have a shared narrative of which they are each part.

I think Unitarians & Free Christians in Britain have to ask, what's our story?


Easter Living

This year I haven't blogged anything substantial about Easter, perhaps because I've allowed myself to become distracted and disconnected from this period of the Christian calendar through a relentless focus on work. Given I currently work for a Catholic organisation, there is probably some irony to be found in this.

Also, I think there is much great writing already out there on Easter, in published print and around the blogosphere - much better than I could write about this deeply moving, yet theologically confusing, time of year.

The standout read for me has been this blog post by Carl Gregg on the need to practice resurrection.

Happy Easter


To Queen or not to Queen?

The Religious Society of Friends in Britain have caused some online debate amongst their members & attenders over their address to our monarch, written as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations. I recognise the qualities of Elizabeth Windsor, the person, but do not recognise her position. I say that not as a traditional Quaker, but as a rational republican. Put simply, last year's riots were a wake-up call that we need to move forward with reform to become more democratic and meritocratic (amongst other things) - the monarchy is an outdated relic, unfair on the holder of the title and unfair on the citizens-made-subjects.

Dissenting Dissenter

I've been following Timothy J. Moore's blog and twitter over the past two days, as he covers the UK Unitarian Annual Meetings. I have always remained on the fringes of British Unitarianism (I realise there is maybe a psychological reason for this as well as theological! Something about the eternal stranger...), and only knew this event was happening when it was announced at my local Unitarian church on Sunday - and then only really paid it full attention when the announcement said there was a motion on euthanasia to be put forward.

It fixed my attention because it unsettled me, because as with abortion, I don't take what is probably the standard liberal position on either these issues, In fact, I don't really take a set stance because they're the greyest of issues. I respect people's freedom to choose, but I am also pro-life, and I also see that I am not walking in the shoes of people facing such hard choices. Maybe this sort of fudging is in fact the standard liberal position?

I've also been following this with interest with the question in mind as to whether Unitarians can, or should, express a collective 'yes' or 'no' view on anything? Because if we take the modern Unitarian ideal of individualism to the nth degree, a ban on proclaiming anything officially is surely the result?

Away from these controversial issues, I was also intrigued, and pleased, to see that the a keynote speech tomorrow will be from a Quaker - speaking as someone who attends a Quaker meeting and Unitarian church, I can see that there are many crossover points as well as distinctions, and look forward to hearing / reading the content of the address.


Peace Trumpets Needed

 30 years on, a British veteran hands back a silver trumpet to an Argentine veteran after it was confiscated at the end of the Falklands Islands war.

Yesterday was 30 years since the start of the Falklands Islands conflict, following invasion of a then arguably unwanted British Overseas Territory by the military junta ruling Argentina at that time. There's a lot of rhetoric out there coming from the Argentinian government and, in turn, the British government and the Falkland Islanders, plus the odd celebrity-come-revolutionary here and there

I think beyond it all, it is clear a negotiated solution - that meets the needs of the Falkland Islanders whilst satisfying some of the more reasonable Argentine territorial claims - can be the only way forward. The Falkland Islands eventually having the same union with Argentina, with guarantees on political and cultural autonomy, as the Faroe Islands do with Denmark seems workable. But the Argentine state needs to work to build trust with the Falkland Islanders to reach this resolution, not constantly threaten their existence. And if the British government are to properly pursue a just outcome for the Falkland Islanders, they must also do the same for the Chagos Islanders.

But this will take time, because as last Friday's Guardian editorial observed, the Argentine military invasion has ultimately slowed this inevitable process down - from a point where Britain was probably more than willing to negotiate a settlement in 1981, to 31 years later where no meaningful dialogue exists whatsoever. I guess that's what killing hundreds of each other's young men does to two countries, and a stark reminder of why war is never really a solution.

But away from the politics, it is encouraging to read that there are some veterans leading grassroots efforts to build peace between Argentina and Britain by getting their children to basically become pen pals through social networking. Tony Banks, spearheading the project, says:

"When we arrived in the Falklands, we had never spoken to an Argentine before, and the kids that the Argentine junta sent to fight had never seen or met a Brit prior to their reaching the islands.

Technology changes this, and it made sense to me to try to start dialogue and discussion between those young people who are most affected by the legacy of the 1982 conflict - the children of veterans.

These conversations are not meant to be political or turn into a debate on whether the Falklands should be British, but rather an attempt to bypass the politicians and show that we have more in common and are better friends than enemies."


False Prophets

John Sentamu today wrote a concise piece in The Sun on the meaning to be gained from Palm Sunday - touching on the idea of heroes.

Which brings me to George Galloway who this week was beamed onto our television screens (the last time he had so much coverage, he was on Big Brother) being carried through the streets of Bradford on the shoulders of his supporters following election as MP for Bradford West.

Galloway started out life as a Scottish Labour MP, but resigned / was expelled during the Blair years, primarily because of his vehement opposition to the Iraq War. He took a stand, risking his political career in the process, and should be applauded for that.

Galloway then went on to found the Respect movement, a political party that basically mixes Socialist Worker fringe characters, the most embittered of pro-Palestine / anti-Israel campaigners and Stop the War Movement hardliners. It has been described as an 'unholy alliance' of old school Marxists (the types that still defend Stalin) and British-born Islamists (to be clear, we're not talking Bin Laden supporters here but we are talking about undercurrents of intolerance and sectarianism).

George Galloway is clearly a talented speaker, or at least has been in the past (I often think now, just like Jeremy Paxman, he tends to parody himself). He is a conviction politician and a maverick, and British politics should remain open to such people.

That said, he also has a shocking record as a Member of Parliament - his parliamentary attendance records as MP for 2005 placed him 634th out of 645 MPs. Similarly in September 2009, he had one of the lowest voting participation records in parliament at 8.4% as a total of 93 votes out of a possible 1,113 divisions. He reportedly argues to counter this that he has spent his time outside of the Westminster bubble engaged in activism. But the criticism still stands - an MP should first and foremost serve their local constituency in Parliament and be an advocate for resident's individual  & collective concerns. But what Galloway seems to do is use the title / status of MP to serve his own narrow agenda about the Middle East and British military inteventions, with his role as local representative for local issues not even coming second. The fact he mixed-up Bradford with Blackburn the day after his election as Bradford West MP highlights this.

Furthermore, whilst Galloway claims to be breaking the hegemony of the big three parties in England at Westminster - to be a 'people's champion' - he is far from this. Just as he plays up his Catholic faith in a sectarian way to the Glasgowegian Catholic supporters he has previously required support from, he now also plays up his so-called Muslim credentials to the Bradfordian Asians he currently requires support from - in effect, dividing people along religious lines for political capital.

I've said before on this blog that British politics needs to be less 'establishment', that we need to hear minority voices. But I don't think Galloway is a herald of either.

For further analysis, I recommend Daniel Hannan's blog post at the Daily Telegraph, coming from a libertarian Conservative position, and Nick Cohen's article for The Observer, coming from a libertarian left position.