“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, 20 February 2013

The Power(lessness) of God

I was sitting in the silence of the Quaker meeting house this lunchtime, pondering the phrase "there is that of God in everyone."

I take this to mean that there is a divine spark - whether you call it "God", "the Spirit", "the Light within", "the still, small voice" or "conscience" - in each and every one of us. The Hindus have a word for it, which they use as a greeting: "Namaste" - "The divine in me recognises and honours the divine in you."

And it came to me that the only power that God has in our world is through us. I don't believe that He (or She or It) is omnipotent, otherwise how would bad things be allowed to happen? If God could truly do anything He wanted, surely He would simply "reach down from heaven" and stop evil-doing or natural disasters in their tracks? As this obviously doesn't happen, I am forced to the conclusion that He must have something different in mind.

I believe that God is all-loving, but powerless to intervene in the affairs of the world. He can influence what happens in only two ways:

1. by giving us the attributes - kindness, compassion, strength etc - to deal with whatever comes our way, and
2. by working through us as that of God within, to make the world a better place.

Rabbi Lionel Blue recalls a conversation with God "in a south German church by some railway lines leading to a former labour or concentration camp:

LB: 'Where were you during the prayers which were said in those cattle trucks of human misery?'

No answer.

LB: 'Were you drunk or dozing? Would it have hurt you so much to take a hand?'

No answer.

LB: 'But you've got no hands - so you're useless!'

As I go through the door, raging within me, my inner voice answers,

Him: 'You're the only hands I've got in the world - over to you!'
LB: 'I've no answer, but now I know the next step for me.'"

This means that each one of us is responsible for our own words and deeds - God can work through us, but the responsibility is ours. So we need to learn to become aware of that divine spark within us, and pay attention to what it is saying. So far from our fate resting in God's hands, the world's fate rests in our hands.

Friday, 15 February 2013

When will there be peace?

Ten years ago today, the largest ever anti-war rally in history took place, as millions of people in sixty countries expressed their opposition to the imminent war with Iraq. In spite of this, the war began on 20th March.

It is now well over fifty years since World War II, but since then, not a single day has passed in which there was not a war going on somewhere in the world - whether it was called a civil war or a "police action".

War is an expensive business, in every sense of the word. If all the money currently spent on defence were to be channelled into education, health and welfare; into feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, what a different world this would be.

If we reject the concept of war altogether, the alternative is pacifism. In the 1930s, an Anglican minister named Canon Dick Sheppard founded the Peace Pledge Union. Tens of thousands of people joined it, pledging never again to wage war. In her autobiography Testament of Experience,  Vera Brittain reports a discussion with her husband, George Catlin, on the issue of pacifism:

Vera Brittain

 Catlin wrote: "I will not stop to inquire whether pacifism as an absolute principle is sound. In measurable time you will not convert to it the majority of this great nation. and therefore (whatever one's private view) it will not, as a public fact, avert war."

Brittain argues that "the same argument applied to all forms of revolutionary teaching, costly and often dangerous to its interpreters, which visualised life in terms of a society still to come. The fallibe Apostles could never have hoped to convert the great Roman Empire to Christ's doctrines "in measurable time". But surely few would now say that the early Christian Church should have abandoned its task as too difficult, even though neither the lands once ruled by Rome nor the rest of humanity were converted even yet?"

She went on to join the Peace Pledge Union, and bore witness for peace for the rest of her life, often at considerable personal cost.

And yet, and yet. I have blogged before about my feelings about pacifism: "To fight or to take a pacifist line is one of the deepest and starkest choices of personal conscience. Is pacifism a cause worth fighting for? What a paradox. I speak as one who has a fairly volatile temperament at times, and one who is not a naturally pacific person. I admire Vera Brittain enormously, and the Quakers too. I am also deeply impressed by the realisation that we are all human beings, given life by God. What right have others to take that life away? What cause can possibly justify it? Not many, I think."

Maybe all that anyone can do is their best, where they are, to promote peace through following the Golden Rule in our lives, and trying to behave towards those we connect with, with loving-kindness, or compassion.


Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Joys of Spring

It is a cold, crisp, clear morning, and the sun is shining in a pale blue sky. I have just been for a walk down to our village post office to post a parcel. All around me were signs of new life and renewal - leaf buds in the hedges, a couple of dogs in the pocket park racing around madly just for the joy of it, and smiles on the faces of the people I met. The air was alive with birdsong.

On days like these, I rejoice to be living in this world, and feel such gratitude and wonder for the beauty of it all. A meditative prayer by the Unitarian Universalist minister Terasa Cooley sums up how I feel beautifully:

"In this time of anticipated Spring, let us allow ourselves to extend the anticipation - to value the time of budding before blooming, of seeding before sprouting.

This is a time of revelation: the revealing of that which is eternal, which we see every year, but still need to be reminded to see it in a new way.

There is also the revelation of that which is new. Every Spring we encounter something never before seen. It is that very newness which embodies hope and potential for the wholeness which is yet to be.

Let us allow Spring to unfold slowly that we may appreciate the true mystery of rebirth and renewal.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Final Warning

A member of my congregation was handed a little note in the street. It read:

This may be your
Your final destination is of imperative
importance - it's either
There's no "in between"
You are either saved or lost for eternity.
If Jesus Christ is your Saviour and Lord then
Heaven is your home forever.
If you reject him on day (sic.)
This was followed by a series of quotes from the Gospel of John. There were no contact details, no indication of where to go for help, nothing.
I am bemused. What is the point of handing out messages like this on the street? Do some Christians really believe that people have to be terrified into converting? What happened to brotherly / sisterly love? What happened to compassion?
I cannot help thinking of Karen Armstrong's reflection in her autobiography The Spiral Staircase:
She writes: "The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology."
Yes, yes, and yes. It is what we do in this life that matters, not what we believe.