Thursday, 28 June 2012

Christianity and Tai Chi

I have been doing Tai Chi for a couple of years. I started because it was a means of exercise and personal balance that I needed, and I have enjoyed it. I have even used an exercise in a sermon, because it expressed the concept so well. It was about keeping your feet rooted in the earth and your head stretched up to heaven.

Of course, some people have a real problem with this. It is not "Christianity" so therefore it is "wrong". Just recently we have been doing the more "spiritual" or "mystical" side of it, which has made me thing again about whether it is compatible with my faith. I should point out that the way of speaking is not easy to align - there is a lot of talk about "chi" energy; about the way it flows through the body; about how some of the positions can help this energy to move and heal. All fairly typically based in Oriental philosophy.

And yet, when I get down to it, I do it as a form of relaxation, and gentle exercise to loosen the body a bit. The Chi energy is a way of interpreting and understanding how this exercise works that I don't entirely accept. But I understand it as a way of explaining what we do, and it is as sensible and right as some of the explanations within Christianity for things that go on - I don't accept all of them either. I have a strong pragmatic streak, because if it works, I will try to understand why, but accept that it works whatever, and try to adjust my understanding to take this into account. Until I find something that is fundamentally at odds with other parts of my belief, I am prepared to accept things that I cannot understand or explain.

However, there is another issue I have here, that I touched on in a previous post - that Christianity has a strong anti-palagianist sense. That is, for those who are not up on Christian heresies, a rejection of the importance of the physical. We tend to evade the questions of supporting and caring for the body, because the physical is less important than the spiritual. When there is a physical problem, the response is usually to pray for it, not to look at what we can do to help it. We do not look at health, exercise, relaxation, we focus on the spiritual aspects, which is not always where the problems are.

Tai Chi does not necessarily have an answer for why the exercises work, but biology probably does. Christianity does not necessarily have all of the right answers to everything, but that does not mean it is wrong. I am a great believer in drawing from wherever, assessing and analysing, throwing some things out, tentatively accepting some things, and enthusiatically accepting others. Surely that is an honest approach to spiritual development? Surely that is what being an honest seeker after truth means?

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Morally Repugnant"

Apparently, David Cameron thinks that Jimmy Carrs perfectly legal avoidance of tax is "morally repugnant". Carr has apologised, and admitted that he made a mistake. Maybe he did, maybe not - lets be clear, there was nothing illegal in what he did, but it was a means of avoiding paying tax on a lot of money.

It has since been revealed that David Camerons dad made his money - and a lot of it - from providing tax havens. Exactly what he seems to consider "morally repugnant". Cameron himself inherited some 300K of this money. I presume that if Cameron really finds it "morally repugnant", he will give this money to a worthy cause.

Actually, what he has done is announce plans to remove housing benefit from under 25YOs. Taking money from young and vulnerable people because of the economic situation we are in. A situation that he is at least as responsible for as the previous government. Punishing the poor - that is morally repugnant.

Cameron said at the start of his term that "we are all in this together". What he meant, of course, is that while we are all in this together, some peoples role is to benefit, whereas other people suffer. Mainly the rich benefit and the poor suffer. That is morally repugnant.

At the same time that he is claiming that Carrs perfectly legal tax avoidance is morally repugnant, Vodafone have been let off several billions of tax - substantially more than Carr avoided. Apparently that is acceptable - evading tax (illegally) is better than avoiding it (legally). That is morally repugnant - if he is serious about Carr being wrong then surely he should ensure Vodafone pay up.

And, of course, if he is serious about tax loopholes being repugnant, why doesn't he close them? He has the power, so he should do it. Of course he won't do that, because that would hit those who support him - the rich who fund him. If he was serious about us all being in it together, he would crack down on all tax avoidance, he would make sure that the wealthiest pay the tax they owe. That he doesn't, and rather chooses to make the poor pay for the failings of the rich, is the real moral repugnance here.

Note that I am not suggesting any punitive tax rates or a rich tax or anything like that. All I am suggesting is that everyone should pay the tax they should on their income. As a minimum, everyone earning over 20K should be paying 25% on their income earned in this country. Is that too much to ask?

Morally repugnant? Yes you are David.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

One of the worst threats in the last 500 years

This week, senior Church of England clergy issued a press release which was reported as saying that Gay Marriage is one of the worst threats in the last 500 years. And it has caused no small stir across the internet. I want to try to address some of the questions raised.

1. Some people have said that those who criticise it should read the entire report first, and comment on that as a whole. Have I read it all? No, and I don't intend to. Because most people will not. It may be a carefully worded, theologically nuanced document. But 99% of people will not read that, they are interested in the summary version, which is as per the headlines (I presume, as I have not heard anyone say it is a poor summary). the truth is that people do not need carefully thought out theology, they need simple answers to basic questions.

It is naive in the extreme to assume that the headline summary is not going to be the main way that people receive this report. The CofE does, in parts, seem to have this sort of naivety, but there is no excuse for this from the senior clergy. The society we live in today does not do long and detailed reports, it does summaries and soundbites. You may not like this, you may think that it cheapens communication, or it panders to personalities - all of which are, to an extent true. But to behave as if it is not the case is beyond naive - it is stupid.

2. There have been some comments that those who oppose single sex marriage are homophobic. Actually, I don't think that they all are. Yes, some are, but the majority are not. I may disagree with them, but I respect that they have their opinions. Debate and discussion is healthy, and it is good to have. The problem with the report is that is is presented as the position of the whole church - something that is definitively not the case. In fact, there are a whole lot of different positions in the church. It is possible that the majority are actually reasonably tolerant of gay marriage.

3. It is wrong. In fact, gay marriage is not the most serious matter facing the church today, never mind for the last 500 years. At the very least, I would think that economic crisis, the situation in Syria, and the increasing irrelevance of the church to society today. That is three for starters. Never mind anything else in the last 500 years.

The truth is that sexuality is not the most important issue for the church. I have tried to not blog about this too much, because it is nothing like as important as some people make it out. Defining the in and the out - the acceptable and the unacceptable - based on ones position of homosexuality is ridiculous. There are people on both sides that are wrong, and on both sides that are right. And, to be honest, God loves all of them. And it is my job to do the same.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

I wish we'd all been ready

I was just reading an article in Geez Magazine with this title, an it set me thinking.

I was brought up through my teens in the 1980s. To those who were also of a similar age, particularly if involved in evangelical or socially active churches, those were very scary times, with the imminent certainty (as we then thought) of nuclear holocaust, epitomised for me by Gillans excellent "Mutually Assured Destruction" and Frankie Goes to Hollywoods "Two Tribes". I was also a fan of "War Games" - the film that reflected that era exceptionally well. It is still a good film, but today it seems overdone, it is hard to realise just how close it reflected the times.

I grew up in an industrial city, which would have been a prime target - that bit at least was true.

From the church perspective, we have films like "a thief in the night" and the follow ups. And the song of the title from Larry Norman, which is, actually, a very good song. Just with a rather depressing concept behind it. There was, in some circles at least, some strong apocalyptic beliefs being preached and taught, reflecting, almost certainly, the worry of the clergy about the impending nuclear war.

But here we are, in 2012. The Berlin wall has fallen, Jesus has not returned, we are still around. So what has this taught me? Apart from a deep-rooted fear of the future?

Firstly, the threat of nuclear apocalypse has given me, I think, a rather more jaded view of the current time, a world that, in my opinion, is far safer than it was then, with some rather crazy people in power, rather too trigger happy for anyones safety. Today, we are still in a very dangerous world, but most of the idiots are terrorists, who can cause destruction on a far smaller scale - not to diminish this, or minimise the suffering that they can cause. But I lived through people who would rather destroy the entire world than lose a war.

Secondly, all of the claims that are still made about us being in "the end times", or giving the date for Jesus returning, I can take with a large pinch of salt. We did that, and it didn't happen. It will one day, but we will not predict it.

And finally, but most importantly, I have learnt that working to make things better here and now is really my duty as a Christian. Trying to work out where we are in the Biblical timeline is a pointless task, as is using fear and panic to convince people that they need to embrace the faith. The real message is that this week, I need to make a difference to someones life, in a positive way. They or I may be dead next week, or may not; Jesus may come back tomorrow, or not for another thousand years. Tomorrow is not something I can deal with, because I don't know what it holds. Today, I need to seek and support Gods working somewhere. End of.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

My body is a temple

I have recently finished a trial course with Zest 4 Life which is a diet and health regime which has done wonders for me - I have lost weight, and feeling a whole lot better. The regime works, and I would recommend investigating it to anyone else who want to lose weight and/or improve their sense of well being.

Enough of the advertising! Because that is not what I want to talk about. It struck me that the churches - in fact, Christians as a whole - tend to be poor at talking about looking after the body. We seem to limit it to "not doing harm", so drugs and self-harm are considered bad things, but reasonable amounts of alcohol and processed food are OK. Tattoos and smoking are somewhere in the middle, with strongly divided opinion on them.

I think that interpretation of the biblical teaching is mistaken in two ways.

Firstly, by identifying things which are considered "unacceptable", we dismiss the people who do them far too often, especially if they persist. I would bet that in your church, if you have one and it has more than 50 people connected to it, there is at least one person who self-harms, or has self-harmed, and cannot admit this to the church for fear of rejection. And I can be certain that there is at least one person with tattoos and one who smokes, not matter what your official position. By identifying there as "bad things", we fail to deal with the people who do them. From a personal point of view, I am more concerned about helping people whatever and wherever they are, irrespective of their behaviour and actions. Drugs and self-harm are damaging the body we have, deliberately and explicitly, so I would want to ask why, rather than just say stop.

The other side is that the church so often supports and even promotes body damage. We serve coffee after services, and accept that some people will drink a lot of coffee in their day, and ignore the fact that it is also a drug, and one that is very hard to break from. We do not find out about or promote the concepts that I have been learning, which is that the right foods make our body work better. And there is almost certainly in your church someone who drinks too much coffee and someone who eats too much, or too badly. And both of them will suffer for this at some point in their lives.

But I am not suggesting that the churches start diet courses or anything, just that there is teaching and messages, like this one, that are an important part of my Christian life, but are never touched on within the church. We miss out on some important lessons. Maybe we focus too much on denial and/or celebration, and miss out living normally.