“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Big Brother Is Alive and Well

The other evening, I was relaxing with my significant other, after a very busy weekend, idly leafing through the paper. When my attention was caught by a headline on the front of the Weekend section (we buy one paper on a Saturday, and it lasts us all week). It read: "Teenwatch: How to spy on your children."

The article, which I read with mounting horror, explained about new technology that parents can use, to "keep kids under surveillance 24/7", including software that can monitor their online lives, including monitoring and reading calls and texts and e-mails, looking at their browsing history online, hidden CCTV cameras around the house (even in the teenagers' bedrooms - ewww!), electronic wristbands that they have to wear when they are out of the house in the evening (like tagging prisoners) and an app called Ignore No More, which "disables their phones remotely if they do not answer me." There is even a device marketed by Teenwatch, which you attach to your teenager's car, and can monitor if he/she brakes sharply or swerves. (I've checked on Google, and these apps are Real!)

Oh. My. God. Even Orwell could not have dreamt this stuff up. What in God's name is going on? I shared some of the article with my husband, and he was as shocked and horrified as I am. I mean, what the blimmin' heck happened to respect for privacy? To trust? Do these parents *really* not realise that all they are doing is making their children hate them, and wish to deceive them? If we had ever tried any of this on our two (not that I would ever have dreamed of it) I am *sure* they would have left home / tried every way possible to get round the devices (for example, by buying a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile for use, and not sharing the number).

Or if the children are accepting this, because they too have bought into the lie that we live in a terrifying world in which nobody can be trusted, then that is even worse. I tremble for the future, if this is what it is going to look like ...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Poppies for Remembrance and for Resolution

Throughout the country on Sunday, and yesterday, people wore a poppy to mark Remembrance Sunday / Armistice Day. It is one of the most potent symbols we have. I wore two poppies on both days - one red, and one white. And I would like to explain why. What colour poppy you wear, and indeed, whether you wear a poppy at all, seems to have become more and more politicised in recent years, which I find very sad.

 The red poppy is the more traditional one, sold by the Royal British Legion throughout the land. According to their current publicity, by buying and wearing a red poppy, the wearer is choosing to help bereaved families, wounded service men and women, younger veterans seeking employment and housing, and older veterans needing age-related care, to Live On.

And that is great, and I would support all those aims. I believe that we should honour the fallen, from all wars, and from all countries. In the words of Chris Goacher, "We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others." But I believe that we also need to find a better answer to the question posed by Canon Dick Sheppard, in 1936: "Of what would they wish us to think? Not that they were heroes; not that there was any special virtue in the manner of their dying; not of the tragedy of youth snuffed out; not even that we loved them, and still remember. They would wish us to think of what they died for."

The dead of the First World War died in a "war to end all wars." And yet, twenty years later, precisely because of the way the politicians made the peace after 1918, Europe and the world were embroiled in war once again, and all the sacrifice came to naught.

I am a pacifist, but I do believe that part of the meaning of Remembrance Sunday is that we should also remember the men and women who are currently serving in the armed forces, the world over, and acknowledge the high price they pay to defend us. Many do not return, and of those who do, many bear the physical and mental scars of conflict for the rest of their lives. And so do their families. And that deserves my respect.

What I am not so happy about is the adoption of the symbol of the red poppy by far-right organisations such as Britain First, or about the cynical fashion in which the present government is using it to make themselves look good. Nor about the underlying nationalism that has come to be associated with it. Nor am I happy about folk being criticised for not wearing one - surely it should be a matter of conscience? After all, nobody is criticised for not wearing (for example) a pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness, or a Pudsey Bear badge to support Children in Need, so why should the poppy be different?

The white poppy is a symbol of peace. White Poppies for Peace made their first appearance on Armistice Day in 1933. With the rising domestic and international tensions at the time, concern grew that the war to end all wars, in which so many had died, would now be followed by an even worse war. The white poppy was an expression of that concern, and became a symbol of our inability to settle conflicts without resorting to killing, but more importantly, a symbol of hope and commitment to work for a world where better, more peaceful answers could be found. The white poppy’s aim is to promote debate and rally support for resistance to war. And as Secretary of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, I am proud to wear my white poppy.

Some Unitarians today also wear a purple poppy. These are sold by Animal Aid, who explain "Throughout history, animals have suffered and died as a result of human conflicts. Animals killed as a result of human conflict are not heroes but victims. They do not give their lives, their lives are taken." I honour this position too, and may well wear a purple poppy next year, alongside the red and white.

The point of all this is, it doesn't matter so much what colour poppy you wear. What matters is whether wearing one and remembering the fallen, makes you want to work for a better world, in which veterans are looked after and respected, and governments really try to work for peace, instead of reaching for war as an off-the-shelf solution to the latest international problem.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Belief and Faith

"Belief" and "faith" are two words that are much used in religious circles.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines belief as "trust or confidence (in); acceptance of any received theology; acceptance (of thing, fact, statement, etc.) as true or existing."

It defines faith as "1. reliance on or trust in; belief founded on authority. 2. (Theol.) belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character and conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof; system of religious belief."

So are they much of a muchness? Well, no, according to a fascinating book I've been reading this week, called Writing the Sacred Journey. The author, Elizabeth J. Andrew, points out that what you believe and how you orient your life (what you put your faith in) can be two very different things. She writes: "Belief can be an extension of faith, but it can also exist in our heads and our verbalised convictions, quite separate from the true alignment of our hearts."

To take an example from my own life, I believe that our planet is endangered because of our profligate use of, well, just about everything, but I do not always make the most eco-friendly choices when I'm shopping, perhaps because I'm in  a hurry, or it's less convenient, or the greener product is more expensive. In which case, my actions are contrary to my stated beliefs.

I think that this is an important distinction to make, and to be aware of, as for me, the whole point of our spiritual and religious journey is to move towards living as authentically as we can, in accordance with our most deeply held beliefs and values. Whenever we *say* that we believe something or believe in  something, but our actions are quite different, there is a dissonance between belief and faith, and we are not living authentically, as I believe that God / the Spirit wants us to.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Jello Neclu

I am wondering when I should get measured up for the zimmer frame. I was out with my daughter today, and somebody texted me. I answered in my customary one-fingered, slow, fashion, and she had hysterics. She pointed out that it would be so much easier if I used both thumbs, and suggested that I tried to send her a text using that method.

So I tried to input "Hello Becky". Except that it came out "Jello Neclu". Oh. 

Also, she is 20 years old this month, which means I am no longer the mother of any teenagers, but the mother of two young people in their twenties. And my knees hurt, and I stiffen up if I sit in one place too long, and I don't have as much stamina as I used to have. Oh dear.

I honestly feel that Jello Neclu really sums up the difference between our generations. Any mobile phone skills that I possess have been acquired over time, and with some difficulty. Whereas my daughter and son seem to be attached to theirs by an invisible umbilical cord, and use them for everything, all the time. And to acquire instant proficiency with each new one they get. 

And I keep mine on all the time, solely so that if either of them wants to get in touch, they can. 

They keep theirs on all the time because they are their lifeline to the wider world.

I do believe that mobile phones are a blessing for keeping in touch with a few special people when you're out and about. But that's it, really. And I cannot help thinking that the time they spend glued to their mobiles might be better spent looking at and interacting with the world around them. I guess I'm just old and out of touch.

But I do love my Sabbath mornings, when I don't turn on the computer, put my mobile on silent, don't have the radio or TV on, and spend the time reading, journalling, stitching, walking in nature. Just being. Not in reaction to anyone else, just being me. 

It is precious time, time, to be mindful, time that I couldn't get if I was stopping every few minutes to answer a text or an e-mail or respond to a Facebook update. I love doing these things, but I also love my time alone, just being. 

Just. Being.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

When Will We Ever Learn?

It is easy to preach peace in time of peace and war in time of war. What is harder is to decide once and for all to repudiate war, and to stick to it, no matter what. Is there ever a 'just war'? I honestly don't know. But I know darn well, that even if the war starts off as fulfilling the Just War criteria, it doesn't stay that way for long.

 Listen to the words of Martin Bell, writing on the Movement for the Abolition of War website: "We have reached a state of affairs where for our own survival, and that of our planet, we cannot afford a future like our past.  We face new forces, of global warming and nuclear proliferation, which threaten our future as never before. I suggest there is a further danger, perhaps less obvious and unperceived, but just as far-reaching in its implications: this is that, for those who govern us, war has become not a last, desperate resort when all else has failed, but a policy option to be plucked off the shelf like any other. We have seen this most recently and appallingly in the war in Iraq. ... It was a war of choice - just as the Great War of 1914-18 was a war of choice."

It is now generally accepted that World War One was a senseless waste of human life. But most folk would argue that World War Two was justified, on the grounds that Hitler had to be stopped. However, like most wars, this too soon got out of hand, and both sides bombed civilians indiscriminately, culminating in the unprecedented horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And today, this country, the United Kingdom, is one of the major players in selling armaments to the world, being the second biggest exporter after the United States. For example, as Jo Lewington writes: "The tension between India and Pakistan makes South Asia one of the most volatile regions of the world, yet the UK supplies arms to both countries. UK Government officials and ministers, of both major parties, actively promote these sales, with personal interventions and an active presence at arms fairs in both countries." We are also one of the two leading exporters of arms to Israel. Not a record to be proud of.

Which makes it ever more important that the witness for peace should be heard.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Such Sweet Sorrow

It is never easy to say goodbye, and to move on, even when it is necessary, and when what you're moving on to is going to be really good. But such is life.

For a reason which I don't need to go into here, I'm stepping down from my role as Secretary of the Unitarian Association for Lay Ministry, which I've held for the past six years. That November evening in 2008, a few members of the nearly defunct Unitarian Association of Lay Leaders met at Great Hucklow, determined to keep the association going. Because we knew how important it was for lay worship leaders to have someone they could turn to, for advice and support.

At that AGM in 2008, it was decided that a name change was required, to reflect the Association's broadening remit. Our new name, Unitarian Association for Lay Ministry, was chosen to indicate that we see our principal role as that of supporting lay ministry in all its forms, not just those with pastoral oversight for a congregation.

The six years since then have been an exciting and enriching experience for all concerned.  Membership has nearly trebled to over 60, and as David Monk wrote on the History page of our website "We communicate with each other, support each other, learn from each other, and continually pull together in seeking to achieve our objectives." We have also been consulted about changes affecting lay worship leaders and congregational leaders, and have made the views of our members known. We have a good website and a twice-yearly newsletter. Our annual conference usually attracts about 25 folk, and our close links with the Worship Studies Course ensure that we remain fresh and up-to-date.

So it's going to be hard to walk away, and let other folk step in. I am so very proud of what the Association has accomplished in the last six years, and confident that it will go on from strength to strength, as more and more trained worship leaders from the Worship Studies Course Foundation Step join us.

As Tim Radford wrote in The Guardian in 2005, "In a here-today, gone-tomorrow world, there is a certain satisfaction in having existed at all. The exuberant joy of being is tempered by the wistful knowledge that nothing is forever. The Romans had a phrase for it: ave atque vale, hail and farewell. ... Parting, neuropsychologists say, is a stretching of emotional bonds: the sorrow is tinged with the sweetness of the memories."

And so I have found. And so I feel now. Ave atque vale indeed.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Keeping On Keeping On

Yesterday evening, I was travelling home from London, after a long day. When we pulled in to Northampton station, I realised with dismay that I would have to climb the long steep flight of stairs to get over the footbridge onto Platform 1, and hence to the exit. And my feet were hurting, because I'd been for an interview, and had had to wear posh shoes ... so I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

I was about one-third of the way up when I spotted a small boy (who couldn't have been more than three years old) toiling up the stairs ahead of me. He was wearing a little rucksack on his back with the Superman logo on it, and was climbing the stairs steadily, in spite of the fact that each one was probably at least knee-high to him, so a lot of hard work. But I had the sense that he was up to the task, and would carry on until he reached the top, without stopping, without complaining.

And I thought "Superman indeed!. If he can do it, so can I." His example of steadfast determination made my day. And I am grateful.