Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Any room for Baby Jesus?

As I sat yesterday morning in the school hall, perched precariously on a tiny plastic chair with my knees in my armpits, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my youngest and her class mates onto the stage set ready for this year's nativity play, I mused on the annual controversythis event in the primary school calender causes.

From informal conversations in the playground, I am fairly sure that the majority of parents in the audience would not be practising Christians. Although I know there were certainly Atheists, practicing Muslims and Pagans in the assembled parent body. Yet nobody voiced concerns that the nativity play was out of place in a school, may be offensive, or in anyway biased towards one interpretation of events (although I'm a little bit dubious that even Christians really believed there were dancing snowflakes and a talking rabbit at the crib-side).

Yet a few weeks ago, some members of the parent body had complained, as Christians, that they did not celebrate Halloween and they therefore re-named the 'Halloween Disco' to the 'Autumn Festivals Disco'. (If they are objecting to the Pagan origins of the festival, perhaps they should look more closely at the origins of some of our other festivals now adopted by mainstream Christianity).

So - it got me thinking. Whilst adults are busy arguing over which festivals we should be allowed to 'promote' in the classroom, there is less debate going on about how we promote these festivals to young minds. As a non-Christian, I for example, have no objection to 'the Christmas story' as told in the nativity play, as long as it is presented as one version of many. I am more interested in my children having a broad education, and learning to be open minded, tolerant and curious about the world, rather than breeding in them the sort of knee-jerk reaction some people demonstrate to select aspects of their curriculum.

As a non-Christian, I thoroughly enjoyed the dancing snowflakes, the talking stars, the singing camels and the plastic Baby Jesus swung around by a four year old Mary more intent on waving at the audience than producing a convincing portrayal of a woman who may or may not have given birth to the Son of God.

Although in an ideal world I might prefer my kids to be learning about spirituality rather than religion, children do have an innate curiosity about what makes us all different, and what binds us together, and events like Christmas can help. I know that alongside participating in the nativity, my children are also learning about 'Christmas around the world' this term, and if we banned the nativity, surely we'd have to stop that too? And what sort of Christmas story would be left to tell then?

How do you think Christmas should be presented to children in schools?

Is there room for Baby Jesus?

Do we throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Or is there an alternative?

Friday, 23 November 2007

Where do you go...?

When you need big answers to big questions, where do you go?

Last night Simon Amstell hosted Never Mind the Buzzcocks with Jermaine Jackson as one of his guests. Jermaine Jackson, a convert from Christianity to Islam, has been quoted as saying Islam gives him the answers Christianity never could. In his characteristic style, Simon Amstell could not resist commenting on this apparent jumping about across religions, and remarked along the lines of -

each to his own, that's no problem

whatever gives you the answers you need.

He personally, he said, gets his from Google.

Although the God of Google was summoned for comic effect, does it say something more profound about the level of question we permit ourselves to ask these days? But if you haven't stopped asking the big questions, where do you get your answers? If you have no specific religious framework to offer you the answers you need to these 'big questions', where do you go?


Your own spiritual guru?

The Mind-Body-Spirit section of Borders?


Friday, 16 November 2007

Spiritual props?

Who or what do you need to help make sense of - or to experience - 'the spiritual' in your life?

For many centuries various religions have provided organisational structures to help followers understand and practice their spirituality - from churches and pews, to rules for everything from patterns of prayer to dress and diet.

But what if you do not follow a particular religion or are trying to develop a spiritual path that makes sense to you? Do you still need these orders and structures and 'ways of doing'?

And if so, what orders and structures do you use?

In the words of one of our bloggers:
' a letting go of everything.
And in this state of having let go,
peace, happiness, openness and wonder well up…
Inevitably we bring with us to this state
our own background and experience,
and this influences how we accept the new realization.
Angels, gods, spirits, Wicca,
whatever helps to put it all into context.
Great spiritual thinkers
like the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tsu can help us,
but we must each find our own way.'

How do you find your way?

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Happy Samhain!: remembering spiritual festivals with a difference...

As you raid the storecupboard tonight trying to find a few more sweets to hand out to those eager trick-or-treaters, spare a thought for where the origins of this festival lie. Halloween has its roots in Samhain, the Pagan festival which marks the spiritual new year, celebrating the dead and the cycle of life.

What 'spiritual' festivals do you mark and why?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Premonitions and rationalist reactions...

Have you had a premonition? How did it appear? Did you act on it? How did other people react?

Laurie Taylor in this week’s Thinking Allowed newsletter describes a recent encounter with a lady called Mary:

“There we were,” says Laurie, “all talking with gusto about the present and past problems we'd had with ageing parents…when Mary suddenly announced that the arrangements she'd had to make for her own mother had been relatively easy because she'd been forewarned of the date and time of her mother's death. Had she been given such news by a doctor or a consultant? Oh no, she told us with a new-found eagerness in her voice, she'd had a personal presentiment, a sudden moment in a dream in which a page of a calendar had appeared beside a ticking clock. The calendar said June 16th. The clock said 4.30. And that was exactly the date and time at which her mother finally expired. It is, I suppose, an ugly testament to the inherent intolerance of rationalists, that the gathering broke up pretty quickly after Mary's admission."

But Laurie admits it is beginning to look as though he will have to find some way of playing down his rationalist snobbery. As he finds out on his show from Owen Davies, author of The Haunted: a social history of ghosts, British people are now more inclined than for several centuries to accept the possibility of 'premonitions and apparitions'.

Of course the doctors and consultants Laurie would have deemed more rational to rely on may have struggled to predict accurately the time of death to within months or years, let alone a day or an hour. Is it not somewhat 'irrational' therefore to assume it would have been a doctor who had so accurately predicted Mary's mother's demise?

Have you had a premonition? How did it appear? Did you act on it? How did other people react? What would you say to Laurie?

If you want to hear more of Laurie’s (ir)rational reflections on Thinking Allowed subscribe to the podcast.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Spiritual encounters

Have you met an angel? Do you talk to 'guides'? Have you encountered a spirit?

What does spirituality mean to you?

What does spirituality mean to you? Do you consider yourself to be spiritual? Why?

Welcome to ESp!

Everyday Spirituality is a research project exploring what ‘spirituality’ means in modern society, and how and why people use spirituality in their daily lives. We are not talking here of religion as an organised, institutional way of understanding our place in the greater scheme of things, but as the idiosyncratic and unique ways that individuals seek meaning in their lives in a modern, complex and materialistic world.

On this blog you will find a series of questions or discussions (each post is a new question) based on themes being explored in the research. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts and ideas to as many of these as possible. New posts are added regularly, and if you have an idea for a new one let me know!

This is part of a wider research project being carried out at The Open University. I am currently recruiting new research participants. If you have an interest in 'the spiritual' but do not necessarily consider yourself 'religious' and would like to take part in the research please contact me.