I recently preached at Kensington Unitarian Church, where I was pleased to receive a warm welcome and to engage in some good discussions. Here is the text of my sermon. I explored issues of faith, power and loyalty, looking particularly at Jesus' comments when asked if Jews should pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. I suggested this passage should be read not as a surrender to power but as a challenge to it.
The Royal British Legion, who run the Poppy Appeal, have in recent years shown a tendency to misuse the message of remembrance to encourage a pro-war, jingoistic agenda. They have now taken things a step further by using an anti-war song in a fundraising film – after taking the anti-war lyrics out.
Three days after returning from Greenbelt, I've had some time to process my impressions of this year's festival. I've realised that the main division at Greenbelt - a leading Christian festival - is not between liberals and conservatives but between liberals and radicals.
A friend of mine who uses a wheelchair was recently approached by a stranger who crossed over the road to talk to her. Without knowing anything about her, he told her that he supported her right to die with dignity through assisted suicide. She told him that she was more concerned with her right to live than her right to die.
Support is growing within Labour for the idea that the party should oppose the renewal of Trident. The decision is due in 2016. Polls consistently show a majority of British voters opposed to Trident. Religious groups, including fairly middle-of-the-road churches, are speaking out against it. Protests at nuclear bases are increasing. Will Ed Miliband have the courage to listen to the majority of the public rather than senior Labour figures who are stuck in the 1980s?
Poverty and militarism feed over each other. Unemployment has always been good news for army recruiters in need of people desperate for a livelihood. So it's no surprise that the recruitment of unemployed people has been formalised in a scheme in the English Midlands. Could this be a sign of the way things are heading? The government is already forcing unemployed people to carry out unpaid labour through 'workfare' schemes. Will they soon be forcing them into army training?
Christmas, when people who rarely enter a church often pay their annual visit, could be a time to challenge perceptions of Christianity. Unfortunately, says Symon Hill, we seem to respond to their arrival by singing some of the most badly written, incomprehensible and theologically dubious songs ever produced. Perhaps it's time to shred the carol sheet.
In 2011, Symon Hill was on a pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia when he heard that the Church of England had launched another consultation process on sexuality. The process has led to the Piling Report, which speaks of being more welcoming while promoting policies that say the opposite. There are some good aspects to the report, but it is likely to make little difference to the lives of Christians in their own churches and communities, he suggests. It is a reminder that we cannot rely on hierarchical church processes - change will come from below, not from above.
Media coverage of George Windsor's baptism gave the impression that baptism is about conformity. Baptism began in a far more radical way, before its domestication by the powerful. Since then, many people have rediscovered baptism's original subversive force, as a sign of dedication to the kingdom of God – and a rejection of the kingdoms of this world.