Joined: 17 Nov 2006
|Posted: Mon Aug 24, 2015 9:04 am Post subject: The Living Tradition is not yet.
|I am a socialist, well, sort of ‘just about’ socialist, there are one or two caveats. I was thinking about this after feeling depressed exchanged emails with my brother after the election in May.
I suppose I am more of the traditional Liberal that passed away when the LibDems arrived.
It was the party that gave the old age pension but also encouraged enterprise.
I come from quite a traditional family. Swearing on the Bible meant something. Our family ancestry is peppered with the great and the good of different dimensions. There is a statue of our great great grandfather in St Georges Hall in Liverpool.
Uncle Cecil wrote stories under the name of Sapper and the hero of his books was Bulldog Drummond. There was a generation of admirals and generals, lots of vicars. My father was one of the first not to be ordained. Then there was us.
Mother had married into this family and was incredibly proud of them, almost in awe of their history. So we were fed endless tales about them and sometimes met some of them but not often.
I became proud of them too but it never occurred to me that they should be an inspiration. They were stories. They were just trophies I had inherited without any effort. Probably the more I heard about them the more inferior i began to feel against them with just my five o levels.
We were traditional Christians too. Grandfather was a vicar in Tunbridge Wells, and a maths scholar at Cambridge while we in Liverpool attended a church that had been built for fiery preacher who lives on in stone in St Georges Hall.
I was definitely a superior British Empire Christian.
But the traditions and trappings of Christianity faded when my life came into the real world. I had been praying for a government I wanted to criticise and a royal family whose right to have me as their subject I questioned. But I had two missionary great aunts and was told of the good work they had done in Africa.
When I began to think about my Christian religion, I couldn't quite understand why I should have adopted the traditions of Jewish history as my own when I was English.
Why I had to have their God who only looked after them anyway. They tried to help at school once by showing us a film about the lost tribe of Israel which seemed to be us.
What had Moses and Jeremiah to do with Jesus? Then I discovered that Moses was a creation and not a real historical figure at all.
The story of the book of Exodus was not written by him in 1400BCE but by the exiled priests in Babylon around 300BCE. They created this story as a new tradition. It was to to bind the exiled people together, maintain their identity as a nation. They gave them an unseen God and not totems or statues. What they were doing was to create a living tradition, rather than a trophy tradition. Their religion would keep them together and it gave them an identity, an identity of superiority no matter what their present suffering, because their unseen God ordered all things, could lead them out of exile as it had been done before.
And that is the big difference. Why the Old Testament tradition does not inspire me as a living tradition now. It was a powerful religion of its time. Many in the modern age pine for it still.
It must be why setting the story of Jesus into that tradition doesn't really inspire me either.
I suppose I should be an evangelical if I wanted to connect with it and feel myself one of the blessed elect and certain of heaven no matter what I did on earth. My British passport was evidence enough. But that didn't seem right.
It was quite different when I joined the army. The army of course is heavy on tradition but it is a living tradition. Your life is part of it and the same standards and same level of commitment is expected from you. You cannot just enjoy its past.
Of course they paraded the regimental colours in front of you, they told you the tales of the past and they had the old soldiers who had been there and had the T shirt. We were made to feel part of a long line of brave people, they told us we had to be as brave too, and would be. I believed it - never tested though.!
I suppose my commitment to traditional Christianity was going to church, giving to Christian Aid and being a good sinner rather than a bad one. I didn't feel I belonged so I didn't stay.
What I was left with was a vacuum. Then I found the spiritual or mystical element in Religions. The spiritual is personal. You cannot be told what is spiritual and what isn't. You can be guided towards it but you cannot be made to obey rules about it. You have to know it for yourself, practice it for yourself.
I suppose the spiritual tradition is similar to the mystical and it is a tradition found in all faiths. The common denominator is experience. And the common denominator is union with the universal spirit, the divine. To some that spirit is external to others it is within. To me it is both.
You can write about your own experience but not about anyone else's. You can be guided by what others have written but if you stop there and say that is what it is, it is your own journey that has actually stalled.
Engaging with the spiritual traditions felt more like belonging to a living tradition and my journey began in Buddhism. There is now a sense of involvement that is in the real world, not the exodus from Egypt nor Palm Sunday. Useful stories though they may be.
So, I thought if the priests in Babylon could reinvent God in a new form then so could I.
My God is not a deity acting supernaturally in the world but the collective spirit of goodness in us all. My God is not a third party making my life difficult or easy - or threatening me. My God is universal and within all things. I can tune into my God.
When all those years ago I chanced upon the Unitarians, they suited me well. I have come to realise they too that if I was having a dilemma about religion so were they.
There was still a strong influence of that old Christianity but it felt obsolescent. there was also something new and dynamic, something that connected with my spirituality. There was a sense of independence but also interdependence - with everything.
The spiritual was becoming independent of the Christian tradition. I suppose that process is still going on, but for me it is complete. Moses is not my faith nor is Jesus but they are icons within it.
I can say that now I belong to a living movement but not quite a living tradition.
The tradition of Unitarian Christianity, the Fatherhood of God, the humanity of Jesus is in my trophy cabinet and belongs to some bygone age, just like my family tradition.
And today there is a challenge for us Unitarians, as I see it. We are established as a group, a movement united by our spirituality, but without a tradition as such, without a definable religion as such.
We are trying to free ourselves of the old Christian label but others are trying to write it in bigger letters.
Spirituality though is growing everywhere, religion seems to be fading everywhere.
My question is - How do we the transient Unitarians establish a living tradition ? A tradition that calls us together and identifies us?
Maybe like the old priests of the exile in Babylon we need to tell the tale of our own historical beginnings. and like them redefine our theology - our idea of God.
I know it is modern jargon but like the priests in exile, we need to reinvent ourselves and our tradition.
Perhaps we need to build our living tradition not on the Old Testament Bible stories but only take inspiration from them. Take inspiration from the New Testament too - but not to belong to it.
I want to build our tradition on the great deeds and the good works of our forbears in the19th century. They who led the way in working for social justice, education for all, women as well as men, who built libraries and schools, maternity hospitals and teaching colleges.
Their good works were inspired by their faith.
Not long ago we used to think the Unitarians work was done, that the changes had been successful and how the state had taken over those responsibilities that ensure everyone has the same opportunity to succeed in life..
but those responsibilities are now being discarded. Then the Unitarians were concerned about their own country, now there is unfairness throughout the whole world
Should we not revive that tradition of service and Good works and give it life once more.
Can we not proclaim those ideals that inspire us ? Let us be identified by them? Fairness, compassion,spiritual strength.
Can we not say that we are a movement of spiritual individuals united by our social conscience and social action, inspired by faith that is a vision of how things could be?
Ours is a spiritual faith based on religious freedom and social action. That could be a living tradition. That could be the identity we are looking so earnestly for at present.
We are not a Christian faith but we have Christians in our faith, and we have Buddhists and Humanists and Hindus and Pagans in our faith too. We are not any of those but they are part of who we are. We worship the divinity within all existence.
Our Living Tradition is a faith based on our spirituality and our good works.
Let it be.