“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, 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.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Exploring pleasures, treasures, hopes, and dreams

Last week I was at Summer School. This is an annual week of spiritual exploration and learning for Unitarians, held at the Nightingale Centre at Great Hucklow towards the end of August. In terms of spiritual growth, it is the most precious week of the year for me.


And when you arrive on the Saturday afternoon, you never know how the week is going to turn out. You just know that you will not leave as the same person you arrived. As part of our Sunday Service, Michael Dadson had us singing:

"Open up a Hucklow bubble, wide enough to hold the week.
Open a space like a smiling face, hold it with unsuspecting grace.
No-one knows what's coming - only when it's here!
Open up a Hucklow bubble, for the blessings of the week!"

And it *is* a bubble - a week out of your ordinary life, during which amazing things happen. The theme for this year was The Authentic Self, and we were led on a rich and satisfying exploration of who we really are, when you strip away all the roles, all the poses, all the superficial stuff. The theme talk speakers and engagement group leaders invited us to dig deep, and there was a dazzling variety of optional activities in the afternoons and evenings which supported the process. Among other things, I enjoyed learning to write Haiku, zen-doodling, mindful colouring, walking a labyrinth (probably the highlight), walking in the beautiful Derbyshire Peak District, and singing wonderful Unitarian hymns and songs.

And, also as usual, I have learned a lot about myself, and have also learned some things that I am able to bring home and incorporate into my life and my ministry. I have made some new friends, and grown closer to old ones. And I have made four commitments, which I hope to honour:

1. I commit to loving my whole self.
2. I commit to letting go of ineffective anger.
3. I commit to recognising the Spirit at work in my life and to writing about it.
4. I commit to being more serene and peaceful.

Summer School is one of very few places that I get the chance to do this sort of work, and it is very precious. I've said before and I'll say again: Hucklow at Summer School time reminds me of Rivendell, as Bilbo describes it in The Hobbit: it is "a perfect house", whether you like going deep, sharing joys and concerns and laughter, arty-crafty-creativity, new spiritual practices, walking in the beautiful Peak District, singing, storytelling, good company, playing games "or a pleasant mixture of them all." It is very, very special.




Friday, 15 August 2014

Finding Things In Common

It is fashionable in Unitarian circles to put the emphasis on our individuality as Unitarians. Each of us, we are told, is on his or her own unique spiritual and religious journey, following the dictates of his or her individual conscience. Even the title of my very favourite Unitarian book emphasises this individuality.


And that is good. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

BUT

Sometimes, just sometimes, when a stranger asks me the question "What do Unitarians believe?", it would be *so nice* not to have to use endless disclaimers, and to just boldly proclaim: "Unitarians believe x, y, and z."

No qualification, just statements. This is what Unitarians believe / stand for. Full Stop.

Which got me wondering - *are* there things which we can unite around? Stephen Lingwood, on his Reignite blog a few weeks ago (July 17th to be precise) , and later in The Inquirer, listed eleven theological commitments, about which he believes that Unitarians could agree. And I, for one, would agree with them, and with him.

I wonder whether we could start a conversation going, perhaps on Facebook, perhaps elsewhere, discussing all the propositions / beliefs / standards which Unitarians have in common, or at least are prepared to concede as valid viewpoints, even if they do not personally share them. We could even formulate our own 95 theses, as Matthew Fox did a few years ago.

Here are five to start us off:

1. The right of the individual to freedom of belief is sacrosanct, so long as that belief does not harm anyone.
2. Being alive is a process of continuous and continuing revelation, so the mind and heart should be open to new ideas.
3. Every individual has the right to seek truth and meaning for themselves.
4. The best tools to do this are an inquiring mind and one's own reason and conscience.
5. It is the responsibility of Unitarian communities to provide and hold a sacred space in which religious and spiritual exploration can take place.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Hoping for Peace

This week has seen a number of significant and tragic anniversaries: 100 years ago on Monday, Britain declared war on Germany, and World War One started. 70 years ago on Monday, a Jewish family hiding in Amsterdam were betrayed, and Anne Frank and her family were sent to concentration camps. And 69 years ago on Wednesday and tomorrow, the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


It is now generally accepted that World War One was a senseless waste of human life. But many 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.

There may not have been a World War since 1945, but there has never been World Peace. And of course horror is being piled upon horror in Gaza, as I write this. And the rest of the Middle East is also unquiet, to say the very least. Not to mention Africa, and other parts of the world. As a human race, we seem to have learned nothing about living together in peace.

I believe that it is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. Faith groups and others the world over are attempting to influence their government and fellow citizens to work towards a more peaceful happier world, in which war would no longer be necessary. We just all need to work together, and to keep at it, until humankind finally realises that peace is so much better than war, for everyone. There are so many ordinary people getting together, the world over, to work for peace and reconciliation. Let us hope that their voices are heard.

Most wars are allegedly fought to bring peace - a most ingenious paradox! We should remember the dead, but also pledge ourselves to make our world a better place - to end all wars, to relieve world debt, to feed the hungry, to find a cure for AIDS, to stop destroying our environment. It is still a beautiful planet, or it could be, if we could only learn to live together in peace.


Amen, Amen.