Friday, 9 October 2009

Marcella Althaus-Reid

The LGBT Religious Archives Network has posted a profile of one of my favourite theologians, Marcella Althaus-Reid.
Her first book, Indecent Theology (2000), received widespread recognition in the theological field and earned her self-described reputation as an "indecent, Latina, bisexual theologian." Her next book, Queer God (2004), was a bold and provocative challenge to the sexual oppression inherent in most Christian theologies and established her as a fresh, cutting-edge thinker.
Here's a quote from one of her books:
Our task and our joy is to find or simply recognise God sitting amongst us, at any time, in any gay bar or in the home of a camp friend who decorates her living room as a chapel and doesn’t leave her rosary at home when going to a salsa bar.
— Althaus-Reid, M. (2004) The Queer God. London: Routledge.


The useful thing about communities is that they can give rise to shared values and a consensus view of reality. This is also the dangerous thing about them: communities under stress can produce really scary norms and values (Jonestown, Nazi Germany, Cambodia under Pol Pot, etc). So we need individuals to balance this out sometimes, and produce new paradigms (it's a bit like Kuhn's theory of scientific advances). Examples of such individuals triggering paradigm shifts include the founders of religions and great collective surges of conscience (early Unitarians, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, early feminists, etc.)

But assuming for the moment that a community is going to tend towards sanity... whom should a community include? If it is going to call itself a community, should it exclude the "walking wounded"? If its collective values are strong enough, can't it include (and help to heal) the damaged people? OK, some people are too damaged and need professional help, but we ought to be able to help the "walking wounded".

How do we create and nurture community? By meeting regularly in large and small groups; sharing our feelings and thoughts. By discussing and negotiating our shared values. And by developing collective ways of putting those shared values into practice.

I've just been reading On Forgiveness: how can we forgive the unforgivable? by Richard Holloway. In it, he talks about the radical change that can be brought about by forgiveness (for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa). Forgiveness is one of the practices that a community needs if it is going to function effectively. It is not something that can be done lightly; it's not about just forgetting what has been done. It is a radical act, and not one that you can command people to do - but it can be developed as a spiritual practice. Another important factor in the development of community is compassion (for ourselves as well as others, and for all living things, not just humans). Compassion can include empathy, love, pity, and mercy. And finally, a certain amount of humility might be useful. Humility literally means "closeness to the Earth". By humility I mean a willingness to accept our own shortcomings. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I do not mean that we should only focus on our shortcomings; compassion requires that we and the community should also celebrate our strengths; and if the community celebrates our strengths, it can also benefit from them.

Monday, 5 October 2009


Street Magician in BathThe Magician from the Tarot of Marseille

I saw this street entertainer yesterday doing a show that has been popular since the medieval period, and she reminded me of the classic Tarot card of The Magician.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Two overviews of Unitarianism

In his excellent blog-post, How does Unitarianism bring about spiritual transformation? Stephen Lingwood outlines the main aspects of Unitarianism, and describes them as a coherent set of values and ideas. If you're confused about where Unitarianism is heading and what it stands for, I recommend reading it. He suggests the following as the key ideas:
  • Look within
  • Communion with Nature
  • Thinking
  • Loving the world around you
  • Wholeness
  • Dialogue
He is also the author of an excellent book, The Unitarian Life, which is an anthology of Unitarian writers past and present giving their views on aspects of life, values and issues. The book is organised thematically for ease of reference, and would be very useful for anyone preparing services to find relevant readings. I found the quotations excellent and inspiring, and agreed with about 99% of them.

Part one deals with Unitarian principles and values; part two deals with specific issues (the environment, sexuality, gender, etc.) and part three is about how to live Unitarianly. There's a good balance between male and female authors, and the various different perspectives from within Unitarianism are included - Christian Unitarians, Buddhist Unitarians, Earth Spirit / Pagan Unitarians, Humanist Unitarians, universalist (in both the modern and the older sense) Unitarians, and just plain Unitarians. It also includes voices from both sides of the Atlantic, and Unitarians and Universalists of both the past and the present. If you are wondering what all these diverse groups within Unitarianism have in common, it is the shared values of freedom, reason and tolerance (and all that stems from these three).