Sunday, September 30, 2007

Neil Gaiman in Bath

Thanks to one of my colleagues alerting me to the fact that Mr Gaiman was in Bath yesterday, we went to the Bath Children's Literature Festival to hear him read from his latest projects, The Graveyard Book and Od and the Frost Giants, both of which were excellent. I can't tell you much about them, as it would be unfair to reveal anything in advance, but The Graveyard Book has a small boy, some ghosts, a vampire, and some ghouls. The ghosts and the vampires are friendly, but the ghouls are distinctly ambivalent. As ever, his writing style gets you hooked and involved in the story straight away - I can't wait till it comes out next summer. Od and the Frost Giants seems to be for younger children, but is still gripping stuff.

Friday, September 28, 2007

is this really necessary?

Just seen this link to a Christian organisation posted on Facebook, and to be honest I found it to be a completely pointless organisation.
By bringing God's values, His Kingdom into the way we work, the way we build-up our relationships, the way we deal with our bosses, our customers, our suppliers and colleagues, we can truly make a difference.
I say pointless because there are already many groups trying to make a difference and bring respect, tolerance, freedom and other humane values (common to all religions, not just invented by Christianity), such as unions, multi-faith chaplaincies, international offices, equal opportunities committees and the like. I can't imagine many evangelical Christians wanting to work constructively with people of all faiths and none, or with LGBT people, for example. And I think most people would feel excluded by the evangelical Christian language.

Of course many workplaces need transforming into more ethical places, but why does it have to have a specifically Christian label? Only 10% of people in this country are actually practising Christians, so most people would regard this as a blatant attempt to impose a specifically Christian worldview, or to convert people to Christianity, even if it were not specifically evangelical (which it is). Also, I would hope Christians were already putting their values into practice at work (though not in the sense of discriminating against LGBT people and people of other faiths or none, or trying to evangelise their colleagues, of course).

The idea of wanting to transform workplaces into nicer places to work and where ethics were of prime importance would have a lot more credibility if it was a multi-faith (including humanist) alliance. And why can't Christians join existing organisations to make workplaces better?

I think the chief reason why this organisation annoys me is the sheer smug self-righteousness of it, as if ethics were invented by Christians. As a matter of fact, the first Western person to think in depth about ethics was Socrates, six centuries before Yeshua ha Notsri. And in the East, Siddharta Gautama also preached compassion about the same time as Socrates.

Personally, I'd like to see more Buddhist values in the workplace: compassion, tolerance, respect for the environment, right conduct towards customers, time off for meditation, respect for other people of whatever faith, and better décor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

sad news

Ruth Bagnall
I just found out that Ruth Bagnall, with whom I worked at the Cambridge Blue pub, died in 2004. That is really upsetting. She was only 38. I found out via a mutual friend on Facebook.

I remember one night in 1993 or '94, we performed a rousing rendition of Tom Lehrer's Poisoning Pigeons in the Park as we were working behind the bar. She was also the person who introduced me to Queer Theory, as she was in a study group relating to it at the time I knew her. We always used to call her Roof, because she was very tall. She was friendly, witty, and passionate about politics. I wish I had known her better (and that I had kept in touch after I moved to Scotland in '94), and now it is too late.

Apparently there's a memorial tree for her. I just broke off typing this and had to rush outside for a cry at that point - I'm gutted about this.

Don't lose touch with your friends - this sort of thing happens rather a lot.

Occam's Razor

A commenter on the facebook version of the "label, schmabel" post pointed out that the list seemed a bit complex, and said that for her the bottom line was whether the belief system was oppressive or empowering for women and lesbians.

That is part of the bottom line, for me. For instance, I don't see how women can be empowered without liberating men from the oppressive structures of patriarchy too. Another friend lives by Socrates' question, "How shall we live a good life?" which also seems like a good test. The spiritual is political, as many people have pointed out.

I guess my "bottom line" or Occam's Razor would be "Does it contribute to the well-being of all beings?" (including women, men, LGBT, queer, animal, tree, discarnate entity, Gaia, etc.) But one still needs to unpack exactly what that means and how it works out in practice, hence my previous complex list. But I can see how the list would seem weird if you didn't know what my bottom line was.

stand with the people of Burma

After decades of brutal dictatorship, the people of Burma are rising--and they need our help. Today over 100,000 people are on the streets of Rangoon, more around the country. When protesters last marched in 1988, the military massacred thousands.

But this time it can be different--if only the world stands with the marchers. The United Nations summit starts today in New York. Let's raise an emergency global campaign, demanding they press the Burmese generals to negotiate rather than crush the demonstrators. We'll deliver it to Security Council members--particularly China's Hu Jintao, until now the military junta's protector--and to media at the UN this week. Sign our emergency petition supporting the peaceful protests in Burma.

For decades the Burmese dictatorship fought off pressure--imprisoning elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy activists, wiping out thousands of villages in the provinces, bringing miseries from forced labour to refugee camps. One-third of children under 5 now suffer malnutrition; millions are down to one meal a day.

But last Tuesday Buddhist monks and nuns, overwhelmingly respected in Burma, began marching and chanting prayers. The protests spread--now they're growing by tens of thousands every day, as ordinary people, even celebrities and comedians join in. They've broken the chains of fear and given hope to 52 million Burmese.

However, this hope is hanging by a thread. While hesitating to attack the respected monks, the regime is reported to be organising violence. Demonstrators have already been beaten, shots have been fired.

This is one of those moments where the world can make the difference: standing shoulder to shoulder with the Burmese people, helping to shine a dissolving light on tyranny. Let's call on powers at the UN--in particular, China (next year's Olympics host)--to warn the generals that violence will have the gravest consequences, and the time has come for change.

People power is rising through the streets of Burma today. Let the demonstrators know the world is with them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

what religion am I?

According to the Belief-O-Matic:

1. Neo-Pagan (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (91%)
3. New Age (91%)
4. Mahayana Buddhism (90%)
5. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
6. Reform Judaism (75%)
7. Sikhism (73%)
8. Jainism (72%)
9. Theravada Buddhism (71%)
10. Baha'i Faith (70%)
11. Taoism (67%)
12. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (66%)
13. Hinduism (63%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (61%)
15. Secular Humanism (59%)
16. New Thought (58%)
17. Scientology (58%)
18. Orthodox Judaism (51%)
19. Islam (44%)
20. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (40%)
21. Nontheist (32%)
22. Seventh Day Adventist (30%)
23. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (30%)
24. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (29%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (19%)
26. Roman Catholic (19%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (17%)

There you go, I am 100% NeoPagan, 91% Liberal Quaker, 90% Mahayana Buddhist, and 86% UU. Maybe I am a Quaking Penguin, er sorry, Quaker Pagan. I resent being 91% New Age, though. And I'm only 67% Taoist, that's strange. I find it significant that my top 11 religions all acknowledge the validity of other religions as paths to the Divine (that's a big issue for me).

label, schmabel

Why I couldn't call myself a Christian under any circumstances
  • Christians have persecuted too many heretics, witches, people of other faiths, and sexual minorities - and they're still doing it
  • The Christian tradition is far too focussed on celibacy and asceticism
  • I don't want to "die to the world" - I love the Earth and nature
  • I don't believe nature is fallen; nor do I believe in original sin
  • Christians must submit to the authority of their creeds and churches; to me, authority comes only from the Divine, heard as the still small voice within, though possibly mediated through the interpretations of others which may give insight
  • They are too keen to convert others to the faith, and too many of them think it is the only truth
  • The Alpha course (it annoys me so much!)
  • I don't believe in the second coming as a literal event (and don't even get me started on those nutters who go on about the Rapture)
  • I don't have a problem with the Trinity, exactly, but nor do I have a problem with the Unity, Duality, Quaternity, or any other numeric representation of the Divine.
  • I can't believe Christ is the only way to the Divine source - and if you look at Yeshua's words in context (John ch 14), he doesn't seem to have been saying that
Why I am having trouble with being labelled Pagan
  • I'm fed up with the reburial issue - why are people worrying about the ancient dead when the Earth is taking a hammering from consumerism and industrialisation? and I'm interested in the individual stories of our ancestors discovered through archaeology, not the relationship of their bones with the landscape
  • I'm fed up with the constant bickering about what colour your candles should be, and lack of interest in theology and community values
  • Neither duotheism nor hard polytheism really work for me as models of the Divine - if you divide the Divine into genders, it implies that there is a "normal" way to be male or female; and the problem with hard polytheism is that it insists that you must view the Divine in a particular way - to me, it's a unity and a multiplicity
  • It is difficult to account for the problem of evil within Pagan theology
  • I'm fed up with the selfish attitude of people who think it's OK to turn up to a festival and drum, sing and play the didgeridoo all night without regard for the needs of others
  • I'm not sure any more if ancient deities can respond to contemporary needs - or rather, I am not so sure if religion should be about the interaction of people and gods, but rather between people and the universe and all its inhabitants
Why I am still a Wiccan
  • I love Wicca - it is my spiritual home: its rituals, festivals and people stir the depths of my soul
  • It is liberating and empowering for both men and women
  • I am an initiate of Wicca, and proud of it
  • Wicca has got me this far on my spiritual path, why should I abandon it now?
  • I feel responsibility to my trainees
  • It is an amalgam of Christian and Pagan themes
  • It acknowledges the validity of all paths to the Divine
  • You don't have to leave your sense of humour or your brain at the door
Why I am exploring and enjoying Unitarianism
  • It acknowledges the validity of all paths to the Divine
  • It feels like another spiritual home
  • It's the ultimate heresy, and I've always loved the heretics and mystics (must be some kind of British-sympathy-for-the-underdog thing)
  • In one of their leaflets they quote from Life of Brian - "you must all think for yourselves"
  • Some of the people I most deeply admire were Unitarians - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Erasmus Darwin, S T Coleridge
  • Even non-theists can join
  • They have cool hymns (and a saying that they sing badly because they're always looking to the next line to see if they agree with it - hey, I do that!)
  • They espouse the values of Yeshua but not necessarily subsequent accretions of doctrine (particularly the Trinity)
  • They regard Yeshua as a great soul, like other great souls such as Buddha
  • I want to explore my relationship with Kwan Yin as well as Yeshua
  • They have a "build-your-own-theology" kit (what a refreshing change from things like the Alpha course)
  • People are welcome, but they don't proselytise
  • They are not anti-LGBT (indeed, they co-founded the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard)
  • They love nature
  • They build links with other faiths and seek to make peace
  • They draw on science, the arts and other spiritual traditions for inspiration
  • I find the Tao Te Ching to be the most meaningful holy book - this wouldn't be a problem for Unitarians
  • They don't tell you what to think, they just put forward ideas for reflection
  • You don't have to leave your sense of humour or your brain at the door
  • They like discussing theology (but they don't have dogma)

Friday, September 07, 2007


I am disgusted by the attack on the Bath Mosque (and by all crime, whatever its motives). The point about why this has caused outrage is not because the victims were practitioners of religion, but because when you are in a church or a mosque, the doors are left open for people to come in, so they are peculiarly vulnerable to attack. It's a violation of trust.

Also, I don't like the idea of something that is sacred to someone else being desecrated (whether or not I find it to be sacred). Add to that the fact that moderate Muslims are under attack from both the general public, who tar all Muslims with the brush of extremism, AND from the extremists for being too moderate, and you can imagine how isolated and vulnerable this sort of thing would make them feel.

Also I am saddened that this sort of incident undermines the efforts made by people of all faiths and none to live peaceably together in mutual respect and understanding. If someone came into my house and urinated in my sacred space, I'd feel very vulnerable and frightened.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

save the wobbly cats!

Apparently cats with this condition (cerebellar hypoplasia) are often put down needlessly, even though they're not in any pain and can have a normal life. If you have a cat with wobbly legs and poor motor skills, watch this video.

the journey

A humorous look at the snakes and ladders board of life...

Phase 1. There you are, trucking along, minding your own business, when wham! something happens to jolt you out of your complacency - maybe a contact with the numinous, or something that upsets or expands your current paradigm.

Phase 2. You try to ignore it, but it just comes back, louder and more insistent.

Phase 3. You give in to it and get involved. Suddenly all your prayers are answered (evangelical types), all your spells work (occult types)! "Woo-hoo", you think to yourself, "I've found the truth". "I must spread the word" (evangelical types); act all superior because "I know everything" (occult types); become a hermit (mystical types); or go on a pray-a-thon (CU types).

Phase 4. Your prayers (or your magic) stop working. Setback! "The God/Goddess doesn't love me any more / I've lost my super occult powers."

Phase 5. The pit of despair. Long dark teatime of the soul. Doubt. Assault by "demons" in the wilderness. Wrestling with angels.

Phase 6. You meet an inner guide, possibly an enlightened one. Possible responses to this:
  • Get massively involved in the tradition associated with the guide, assuming it is the Only Truth. As in the game of Snakes and Ladders (originally an Islamic analogy for the spiritual journey) go back to phase one.
  • Decide that all your journey prior to this point was worthless because you have now found the Truth, and previously you were deluded by the "powers of darkness". Go back to phase one.
  • Realise that all the guides that have ever appeared to humanity are messengers from the Divine Source. Proceed to phase seven.
Phase 7. Further up and further in. Acknowledge that all religions have the potential to facilitate contact with the Divine. Joyful embrace of the Divine Beloved. Find a tradition that resonates with your new inner reality.

Phase 8. Decide to both serve the world and enjoy its beauty. Share the blessing.

Observant readers may notice the similarity of this with Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey. I have seen facets of this journey in accounts of Christian mystics, the prayer lives of Christian bloggers, the spiritual journeys of Pagans and occultists. With variations, it seems quite widespread - perhaps even universal. Some people get stuck in one of the phases for a long time, in others they may last only a few days. And the journey may be a spiral around the mountain - we may revisit these phases several times in different ways.
"Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be." ~ Alan Watts

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right

ah, ah, ah, ah, ah...

You say you'll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead
But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow
Don't you know it's gonna be all right
all right, all right
all right, all right, all right
all right, all right, all right

~ The Beatles, Revolution

tolerance and intolerance

It's ironic, but the one thing that the tolerant cannot tolerate is intolerance.

If you try to impose your ideas on others, you will get thrown out of a UU church, a Pagan group, or any other group that espouses freedom of conscience.

The paradox of a multicultural society is that all must accept or at least tolerate each other for it to work. The only way this can work is through mutual listening, dialogue, patient work, forgiveness, and more forgiveness, together with an acceptance that no-one is perfect. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Qualities which are not generally apparent or widely cultivated in today's culture.

There is much discussion among Pagans (and UUs and others too) about what to do with the intolerant and those who seek to impose their ideas on others. The simple answer is, walk away - with compassion. To get embroiled in argument is just to give in to the troll.

Trolls are destructive - they seek to twist your nice inclusive liberal ideas because they (possibly subconsciously) know that's where you're vulnerable. they'll do it in real life and on the internet, and then whinge endlessly about how much you wounded them by refusing to be dominated by them, and how that makes you not really a liberal, because you tried to impose rules on them. Well let me tell you, rules are the only way we have for communicating with each other, to ensure fairness and equitability. Rules are a part of nature.

This little rant was brought to you courtesy of the latest troll to cross my path (the subject of the linked-to post).

Does this man drop by every potential new Unitarian's blog to tell them his story and try to put them off, just because he fell out with one UU congregation? (I've deleted his comments now, because I don't give air-time to trolls.)

The more I think about this, the more saddened I am that this has happened.

I declared that I have found something truly beautiful and joyful and life-affirming, and I got trolled.

Get over it, forgive, move on. Read the stories on The Forgiveness Project and ask yourself if the hurt you suffered (and inflicted) is anywhere near what those people have been through. If the people whose stories appear on that site can forgive, then so can the rest of us.

Monday, September 03, 2007


I'm the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!
People have often said about you that the odds are good, but the goods are odd. You're definitely good at knowing what the odds are in any situation, even if you might have trouble expressing what they are to a crowd of people. You see the whole world in numbers and have even argued that it might be beneficial to replace peoples' names with numbers in all situations. It would seem that you are odd after all. But brilliant. You make a serious effort to never go outside.
What university are you? Take the University Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

I'm quite happy to be a university full of geeks with a solstice sunrise alignment in my corridors...


I went to the Unitarian church on Sunday and it was so beautiful that it made me cry.

All their hymns were about affirming that the truth can be found in all religions and in films and books and poetry too, and there was a strong sense of the mystical oneness of the Divine. One of their booklets mentions the dictum of The Life of Brian - "you must all think for yourselves". (Which is also the message of Project Ijtihad).

When I came out I was walking on air - it was fantastic!