Sunday, 27 July 2014

My Unitarian Sermon

So a service for the folks at home base and then on the Internet. There is the service structure, which can be used for different hymns, readings and sermon, although there is still a reference to the hierarchy of knowledge in which maths as relational and structural comes first, and then the sermon on Beautiful Equations (including Fractals). The CD is for the service, so I jump several tracks even in the service given. For example, there's either Don McLean Waters of Babylon or Queen Is This the World We Created (shorter) for a Lament, so the CD has both. As for the sermon, I'm venturing into an area at the boundary of my knowledge and there were several partial rewrites to get what I was saying passably accurate - whereas the main point is  - well, yes - the proof of mathematics but the theological speculation that lying behind much complexity is a transcendence in the simpler iterating or balancing equation, just as many scientists insist on the beautiful equation as a filter to connect fully to explaining nature (including space and time).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Death of the Denominations

I wonder which will be the first denomination to collapse.

It could well be the Unitarians. I don't know how long locally the weekly service can continue with such low attendances. There is a body of people to draw upon who could sustain it if they only attended each week, but each week already people like me are coming by obligation to keep the show on the road. In the past a church like this would have closed. Now we keep it going, hoping one day for a 'bounce' as has happened in other places - the random two or three that come and stay, and eventually more attend.

The problem is that there are plenty of people out there who used to attend, but now do not any more.

Recruitment is random, and we are addressing now the sense of drift. There was a time when we liked variety and different preachers every week. However, it obviously hasn't sustained interest and the need now is for more co-ordination, and a leadership from the front rather than from behind. It needs co-ordinated ministry.

I don't think for a minute that this is unique. The church, like many, is now badly located. I would go west, young man, because one feature of the more successful Unitarian churches is that they have parishes locally, that they can form communities within communities. You can't do that in a city centre.

Another success type is in the metropolis where there is enough choice for a church to specialise - either humanist, or Christian, or Pagan, or Eastern. The big umbrella has much to commend it, but if the rumour going around is that my church is 'humanist' then perhaps it should develop this identity. A preacher we find very acceptable, because he thinks, is theologically competent and gives personal reflection, was warned that certain features of his presentation might not be appropriate because we are 'humanist'. Not so, in fact, but the 'humanist' label is only comparative to other Yorkshire congregations. And when your congregation is so low in number, what is it to have such an identity anyway? Two of us who attend are Masters level in Theology and Religion anyway.

The other churches in Yorkshire are not exactly doing brilliantly either. One closed last year, and others have handfuls attending. The tradition is historical, and often I think is presently irrelevant. As gay friendly we could be a gay inclusive church, but no effort has been made to register for rites of passage.

Hull is also very secular in surroundings; I would challenge any of those so-called successful ministers to come to Hull and build the church. Any success of course would be considerable in terms of a lifeline of a future, but this territory is more than tough. I live in the largest parish in England for the Church of England in terms of population - and 80,000 people provide 80 people attending each week across a number of churches. This is indeed residual religion.

Let's not get the idea either that, say, Baha'is and Buddhists are doing any better. Their numbers are insignificant. The Baha'is thinking they are the next world faith are a pinprick of membership in the UK and many of them when signing up simply leave because of the monetary and bureaucratic burden heaped upon them. New religions are as troubled as old. Pagans manage things because they keep flexible and associative. Buddhists have regional centres and classes, and these are their own pay-centres.

By and large Unitarians have plenty of money, no people and lack imagination about how to gather. Unitarian regional and national meetings are always more creative and exciting and interesting than the weekly fayre in badly attended chapels.

Unitarians are now so used to bobbing along at the bottom that they seem to go on an on regardless. But it is a denomination in the winter of its life.

My bet is that the United Reformed Church is the first main Church to collapse. I suspect this is the main reason why it has become the one gay friendly mainstream Church. It maintained numbers by taking over Scottish denominations, even at the cost of theological conflict over adult baptism, but its congregationalist inheritance gives internal flexibility for difference - as over the gay issue, even if consensus wasn't achieved at the top for variation within regarding gay marriage.

But the much bigger Methodist Church is tumbling down the numbers too. After all, if it has the same top-heavy age range, it collapses by the same proportion and speed as others. As I understand it, the Methodists have actively closed surplus churches (something the Unitarians cannot do) and moved people together. It does have a younger element, but a tiny portion, and no doubt they (if they continue, and most don't) will give it a bit longer than the URC. But, in the end, the disappearing disappear proportionately.

Inevitably the Methodists won't die but will absorb into the C of E. It has missing bishops so that's relatively easy to sort out, whereas the URC has no bishops and cannot re-absorb. To absorb the ex-Puritans, the C of E would need not just theological bishops for existing minority groups but leaders that were not bishops at all and not recognised as such. Either that or the URC starts calling ministers bishops on some new and convenient New Testament re-reading.

I think it is between those two as to which dies first, but my money is on the URC.

Saturday, 5 July 2014


First, let's get the jokes out of the way.

Before: It took a while to bring Rolf Harris to justice. Police initially stated that Rolf Harris has an extra leg to stand on.

But later: Judge: Members of the Jury, have you reached your verdict?
Jury Foreman: Yes, your honour, we have. Can you guess what it is yet?

And afterwards: It's such a shame to hear about Rolf Harris being found guilty of sexual offences. He touched so many people in so many different ways.

At the Animal Hospital. "How long do you reckon, doc?" "Five years and nine months, half that if fortunate."

My pub-going friends being into football, unlike me, would tell me about listening to Stuart Hall's commentary and that it was brilliant and surreal with his literary asides. And then before the crown court case he pleaded guilty. Suddenly they had to revise their view of someone who was something of a hero to them.

(To me, Stuart Hall was a sociologist and multiculturalist. He died fairly recently. He was something of a hero too via the Open University.)

I've had to do similar revision regarding Rolf Harris, partly because I didn't like the sneers long directed at his artwork. Now his artwork is apparently at ten per cent of its former value, from originally tens of thousands of pounds per picture, and the existence of the 2005 picture of the Queen he painted is unknown. Well, it's still public money and someone ought to know where it has gone.

Rolf Harris never pleaded guilty, and so with the evidence against him thought his reputation and replies might win over a jury not to convict; but in that the evidence was delivered forensically they did convict and thus Harris has put his victims through the court forcing them to relive what he did. This surely adds to his sentence. His evidence was like a gamble of their word against his, and his word carried reputation - until Cambridge came along with a video undermining his 'never went to Cambridge' claim.

I remember being a witness at a court in a property dispute. When the verdict came, from the judge, the sense of winner takes all (on our side) and loser loses was incredible. The loser lost and there'd be no more bad behaviour from him. He lost. Verdicts are crushing and they really do deliver justice, when they do. Because a court carries absolute power - you must do what it determines - it acts as an alternative to violence and uncertainty. It allows decisions to be made and they are crushing to the loser.

The media that cannot say this and that suddenly has open season on the convicted. And so his work as an entertainer is being trashed.

The first thought must be to his victims. He clearly thought he could get away with momentary dives into young women's flesh in their most space-invading manner. It was far more than being touchy-feely and the wise person is not so-called touchy-feely. Far worse was the grooming and invasiveness that shattered the life of his daughter's friend, which was pure exploitation and taking advantage to someone trapped and made confused. Like with Stuart Hall, the past has caught up with him.

The court should give these people justice. When it comes to notions of forgivenness, the people to do the forgiving are his victims. Nevertheless, the rest of us should not be jumping all over him.

He was an oddball entertainer and carved a space out for himself. Nothing wrong in that. His big cartoons of course used television techniques of bright lights that left nothing to chance. But were his paintings that bad?

We've just had Traci Ermin's bed sell for £2.2 million. This is like someone having a joke. In so much modern art, the art is "exhausted by the description". Rolf Harris's art had some craft to it. But the question is whether it is good art.

We can't do objectively good art, because art is always going to be individual in preference. Rolf Harris's art might be equated with that of Jack Vettriano, who continues to be despised in serious art circles. I can see what is not liked in Vettriano's style and approach, but nevertheless his art has a kind of message and one that has populist connection. Rolf Harris's art does not have a message, and any one that comes is more by accident than design. His portrait of the Queen with her teethy smile suggests an ordinary grandmother type figure, but this is by accident not intention. He tried hard as possible to get a likeness and he ended up with that.

When I do a painting or drawing, the need to get a likeness forces the art into whatever direction it goes because of that - my art has a style but it is frustrated. Plus anyone can see that I struggle to get arms and hands right and often do not. But then I've looked at some photos and realised that if I painted those as seen they'd be unbelievable - too long, misshaped, hands too small/ big, fingers odd. I need to paint people several times to get the 'look' but it doesn't get the rest and additions to the figure are often in peril. A lot of my output is cartoonish and sexy; it does have a style. But while I was better than many in art classes I was within that limitation.

And that's how I'd view Rolf Harris. He was like a good adult education-level painter. He could, with preparation and several goes, tackle difficult subjects, and produce likenesses, but he never produced art that could transcend that level. He was good in terms of the ordinary.

None of this is altered by his conviction. What is altered by his conviction is insight into his choices, particularly his advice to children about not being touched in notions about your body being your own body and not someone else's. What was behind that? Well, that secretly he knew he was doing wrong, and his habit and opportunity overtook any caution or moral restraint, and of course by fronting such a campaign he deflected attention from himself as a possible doer of the same. Clever, but after a conviction, disturbing.

Some of my best pictures, where something starts to transcend the product, are quick ones, like Rev. Trevor Jones playing the violin, or silver goblets, or some landscapes. But most don't transcend the paint or computer colours arranged. They are limited to themselves. The best we do is learn and express, into a limited space of limited talent.

I'm saying then let's not trash a person for everything they did. There is a reason that people found Jimmy Saville creepy in a way Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris were not. Hall was football knowledgable and had a style. But these latter two were holding secrets, secrets that had affected others badly and would come back to them. Celebrity gave opportunity and power, and whereas others who might make a mistake of space-invasion and learn from it, they didn't and reckoned they could carry on largely as they did. What was for them gratifying left a trail of destruction for the others they involved, and the others have come back for justice, and justice they have. As the judge said, there's no one else to blame.