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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The Fellowship magazine, Issue 2

My good friend Bob, minister at Oldham Unitarian Chapel and chair of the Fellowship of Non-Subscribing Christians, has worked hard on getting the second issue of 'The Fellowship' to publication.

It's a great read - outlining what this newly-formed group is aiming for in terms of vision and approach to faith, and with Bob's own article, taking a refreshingly robust stance on social justice issues. For me, the magazine and broader FNSC project is providing something I have missed - a community of simple, non-dogmatic faith that is yes, open-minded and inclusive, but also not ambivalent.

In saying this, I hasten to add that my article in the magazine is not the direct or indirect subject of my praise - as much as I am satisfied with it, I am referring to all of the other ones!

The full text of my article, as originally submitted, can be read below...

"'Reviving the Liberal, Radical Faith'

Many Christians, in addition to the master teacher and example they find in Jesus, will often readily name prominent Christians from history they find particularly inspiring. As a Unitarian Christian who has regularly attended a Quaker meeting over the past two years, I would say William Ellery Channing and George Fox are such figures that immediately spring to mind.

Since I first came to Unitarian Christianity in my early twenties, Channing has provided me with a coherent, comprehensive theology – a body of written works I constantly turn to and find guidance in. Setting himself against the dominant view within 19th century New England churches of a fallen, deprived humanity in need of supernatural rescue, Channing’s Christianity – a deeply-rooted humanism that proclaims we are not fallen, simply yet to rise to our divine potential – is profoundly inspirational on a daily basis, particularly in my work with young people.

Fox, on the other hand, speaks more to me for his simple, prayerful faith and utter commitment to living it out. Dressed in a self-made leather suit, shoemaker Fox must have cut a strange yet compelling figure roaming England during the turmoil of the 1600s preaching an uncompromising message of the light within, a subversive message of Christ being accessible to all without mediation of a priest, a radical message of absolute pacifism – and, controversial to some at the time, the reassuring message that women also had souls! His journal, treasured by both spiritual seekers and historians alike, recounts many tales of standing up in churches to denounce practices such as the exacting of tithes, of preaching in market places where he knew the reaction of some would be viciously violent, of audaciously speaking to those in power – even meeting with Oliver Cromwell and reportedly leaving Britain’s stern Puritan overlord moved to tears. Fox reminds me that Truth is not necessarily found in the sophisticated, the educated and the genteel but in the rough and ready, the troubled and the malcontent.

Without Channing and Fox, I may well have given up on Christianity, having no alternative to what had become, for me personally, the alienating doctrine of the churches I grew up in. In this sense, I am indebted to them.

Yet perhaps the real debt goes to someone else. For without this someone else, we might suppose the ministry, and lives, of Channing and Fox would have been brutally cut short.

The third figure who I find increasingly important in my reflections on what it is to be a Christian disciple and seeker today is Sebastian Castellio, the French preacher who led the revolt against the notorious burning of early unitarian thinker Michael Servetus in 1553 and in doing so, brought ruin up himself and his family. Castellio wasn’t an avowed unitarian, he might well be described as ‘softly trinitarian’ – nor had he ever met Servetus personally. Yet the attempt ‘to kill an idea by killing a man’ provoked him to publicly stand in opposition to John Calvin and his Geneva Council allies. Making what was a ground-breaking case for a free Christianity, Castellio famously argued, "When Servetus fought with reasons and writings, he should have been repulsed by reasons and writings…” going further to add, “"Let me have the liberty of my faith as you have of yours. At the heart of religion I am one with you. It is in reality the same religion; only on certain points of interpretation I see differently from you. But however we differ in opinion, why cannot we love one another?" Although initially a voice in the wilderness, Castellio’s campaign for toleration eventually began to take hold in Europe.

Watching with horror at the modern-day barbarism of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ group, I am sure many of us who find affinity with historically non-conformist churches cannot but see the parallels between the moving yet ultimately tragic stories of our ancestors and the struggles modern day heroines and heroes are facing in the Middle East. As I write this, news has just broken of the torture and public execution of Mosul-based lawyer Samira Salih al-Nuaimi who spoke out against the destruction and desecration of mosques and shrines deemed to be heretical by ‘Islamic State’ fanatics.

If the Fellowship is to embark on a revival of our liberal, radical Christian faith, then religious freedom must be a banner we are willing to carry forward. And not just talk about mournfully, but act upon – for George’s sake, for William’s sake, for Samira’s sake, for all our sakes."

1 comment:

Naomi said...

You are too modest Matt. Your article is excellent.