“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

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.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Love Made Visible

One of my favourite quotes from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran concerns work. He wrote:

"And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. ...
Work is love made visible."

In our complex 21st century society, we tend to buy most of our possessions from shops, which have in turn been supplied by factories, which mass-produce thousands of x and millions of y. So it is always a treat to buy something that has been made by a pair of human hands, with care and affection. This week I bought a simple wooden bowl, which had been hand-turned by a local artist. And it is beautiful. And more precious, because it was made with that care and affection.

I have also just finished crocheting an afghan blanket for my daughter, and was reminded of the quote from The Lord Of The Rings, when the Lothlorien Elves say to Pippin (about the elven cloaks): "We put the thought of all that we love into all that we make." I have certainly crocheted it with love, thinking about my daughter a lot as I made it.

But the same attitude can be brought to any task undertaken by humankind. It can be done carelessly, hastily, in a slipshod fashion, with no care for the outcome. Or it can be done with love and attention, for the sake of the work itself, and for the pride of creation and the joy of creativity. And that is good.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Broadening the Heart

It is said that reading broadens the mind, and that is good and true. But there are a few special books (probably different ones for each person) that broaden the heart. I have blogged about this on here before, and what I said then still rings true for me: "Few things give me greater delight than the discovery of a new book that makes me think; that makes me see the world and everything in it in a new light."

And it's happened again this week. At our Ministerial Fellowship conference, folk bring books to sell, in aid of the Ministerial Students' Fund. And I picked up Wishful Thinking: a Seeker's ABC by American writer and Christian theologian, Frederick Buechner. I picked it up because American writers and friends whom I respect had quoted him, and I had liked these quotations.

But I wasn't expecting to discover another Ah! Book, one that has the power to fundamentally change how I see the world. And this has. It is an alphabetical listing of short pieces on a wide variety of religious and spiritual topics. Often an entry is just a few sentences. Take the one on Anger, for example, on page 2:

"Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back - in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."

I read it, and the way that I see the world changes. And that is such a gift. And I am so very grateful.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Happy Birthday to Me - Being Sober Rocks!

Well, I did it! 15 months ago today, I stopped smoking. And one year ago tonight, I had my last glass of wine.

My Choose Life tattoo - done to celebrate six months sober
And now that I've got here, how do I feel? Pretty meh, actually, which is a shame, because it is a Fantastic Achievement. This time last year I was frightened about how much control drink had over me - it was a strong daily habit that took some courage and guts to break, and to keep on breaking. For a whole year, in the face of many opportunities and provocations to start again.  Not to mention downright encouragement from well-meaning but misguided idiots, who say things like "Just one wouldn't hurt" or "If you just have a drink today, you can go back to being sober tomorrow."

No, I can't, actually. It's exactly like giving up smoking - you either do or you don't. For me, there is no pleasant half-way-house of "the occasional glass at a weekend". I *know* myself well enough to know that if I once started again, it would soon be back up to between half and one bottle of red wine a night, just like the old days.

So I'm going to stick to my resolution, and remain AF, and maintain my self-respect. I've got through the crucial first year - First Christmas, First Holiday, First GA Meetings, First Summer School, the kids leaving home, and I've Done It. And that is something to be proud of, and to celebrate.

I guess the reason why I don't feel much like celebrating is two-fold:

1) the automatic way it occurs to me to celebrate in this drinking culture of ours is *still* by having a drink. Not Good. In the past year, these are the times I have found hardest - when there has been something to celebrate, and the automatic reaction of all concerned has been "Let's drink to that" (whatever it is). And I feel very left out and kill-joyish. Which I'm not. I'm just someone who has had to take a different path. I've also found I get pretty bored at social functions, when all around are getting slowly pissed, and loud and happy with it, and I'm just sitting there. Not so bad if I have access to my beloved Becks Blue AF lager, but dire otherwise.

2) Contrary to my expectations, I haven't lost any weight. Unlike friends who have travelled the same route as me, and lost shedloads of weight, my weight has remained the same. (I know fine well why - I replaced an addiction for red wine with an addiction for Cadbury's Dairy Milk). Not as dangerous, but not conducive to losing weight.

But I have NEVER regretted my decision to go AF, and am *exceedingly proud* to have made it through the first year, with a lot of help from fellow Soberistas. There is still the odd hard day, but they are few and far between, and I am never in any serious danger of caving in, and drinking again. 

And that is my life. I'm sober, likely to stay that way, and enjoying every day of it.