“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

Friday, 18 April 2014

What Really Matters

It has been a strange week. I have encountered more judgement than compassion, both in myself, and in others, and that makes me sad. Which is why I was heartened to read a quote from J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, which has helped me to regain some perspective: "Is fat really the worse thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil or cruel? Not to me."

Vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil and cruel are some of the nastier characteristics of humankind. I was horrified this morning to read that Jews are being required to register with pro-Russian forces in the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk, or face being deported. The report (in the Daily Mail) states: "A pamphlet handed out in Donetsk orders 'citizens of Jewish nationality' over the age of 16 to pay $50 to register and be issued special passports 'marking the confession of faith'." Inevitably, I am reminded of the horrors of the Holocaust, and I pray that the Ukrainians are not heading in the same direction.

I feel the need to examine why this sort of persecution (of one human being or a group of human beings) happens. I believe that one of the major reasons for religious intolerance and religious strife (or at least for intolerance and strife in the name of religion) is fear of the unknown.  The vast majority of people know very little about other religions, and it is part of human nature to fear the unknown (or the different). 

I'm now going to embark on a wild generalisation. When a person brought up in the Christian tradition (for example) looks at a Muslim person (for example), they probably won't know any of the beliefs in common that Muslims and Christians have. They may only see that the outside trappings are different - the mosque instead of the church, the taking off of shoes, the Halal meat, the wearing of headscarves by women and so on and so on. Muslims are Different to Us, (capital D, capital U) and therefore cannot be trusted, and are therefore feared. Or to take an example closer to home, until not so long ago, many Northern Irish Protestants and Catholics regarded each other as spawns of the devil.

Ignorance breeds intolerance, which in turn breeds fear and hatred, which can easily turn into all-out strife. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous politicians who sit at particular points on the religious divide, see it as their job in life to foment intolerance and fear, so that they can whip "their" people up to commit acts of aggression and violence in the name of religion or communism or the Russian Way of Life - whatever! The links between states and religions are very strong; the dividing line between tribalism and nationalism is a very thin one.

What really matters is that as many people as possible try to follow the precepts of the Charter for Compassion, both in their private lives and on a larger scale. Which means treating each other as we wish to be treated ourselves, and not treating each other as we would not wish to be treated.

What really matters is that we are all human beings.

At our General Assembly meetings this week, Jane Blackall used a beautiful benediction by Erika A. Hewitt to finish her morning devotions, which I repeat here:

"The hand in yours belongs to a person
whose heart is sometimes tender,
whose skin is sometimes thin,
whose eyes sometimes fill with tears,
whose laughter is a beautiful sound.

The hand that you hold belongs 
to a person who is seeking wholeness
and knows that you are doing the same.

As you leave this sanctuary,
may your hearts remain open
may your voices stay strong
and may your hands remain outstretched. 

This is what really matters. I pray that it may be so in the days and weeks that follow.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Respecting Others' Boundaries

On the eve of our Unitarian General Assembly meetings, a timely post popped up on Facebook. It was written by Ramon Selove, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley,
who is also autistic.

In it, he explains some of the issues he has with meeting people, touching people and with general noise levels. It is "stressful for me to be in the presence of a large number of people and it is much worse when many conversations are going on at the same time." The link to the full article is below.

Another issue is being touched by people. I was surprised to learn recently, from a fairly extrovert friend, that the kiss on the cheek with which I customarily greeted her was not really welcome. I was distressed that I had unwittingly disrespected her boundaries. Selove covers the "welcome levels of touch" issue in some detail, and suggests icons on name badges to indicate what an individual is comfortable with. For example "hugs welcome" or "handshake only" or "no kissing".

He concludes: "There is, of course, a much simpler approach: encourage everyone to 'ask first'."

So as we greet old friends and make new ones at our meetings, maybe we should bear all this in mind. I am certainly going to try.


Friday, 4 April 2014

Enough Already

You know how it sometimes happens: you receive a certain message / hear a certain idea. It can be from a Facebook post, a talk, an article, an address And once you have heard / read it, once it has squirreled its way into your consciousness, every other thing you hear or read seems to chime in to back it up or elaborate on it. Some may call it synchronicity, but I'm not so sure.

And it has happened to me this week, with the concept of Enoughness. At our District Annual General Meeting at Shrewsbury last Saturday, our Guest Speaker was Brighton Unitarian John Naish, author of a marvellous book called Enough: Breaking Free From The World Of Excess. In his entertaining and inspirational talk, John preached the doctrine of "practising enoughness in a world of more, more, more." He explained that instead of forever chasing after the next goal, the next project, the next gadget, we should appreciate what we have and be grateful. And that we should grow our gratitude by appreciating our bounty.

John commented that "gratitude is one of the select number of things in life for which we cannot actually get enough". Another is spiritual commitment. He argued that we needed to take the time to go deep spiritually, rather than skating over the surface, always trying out the next spiritual practice that promised peace and contentment. He illustrated this by joking: "There would have been little opportunity in 2nd century Nepal to say, 'Buddhism? Yeah, I've been exploring that. Really great, inspirational stuff. But then I wanted to try 'Shamanic Whirling', and both those classes are on a Wednesday evening, so ..."

He argued that spiritual exploration only bears fruit if we commit to certain practices, and stick with them. And he concluded by saying that "For me, and for many of you, I trust, Unitarianism has provided a central thread, a community, a tradition, and a discipline from within which we can explore the spiritual wisdom of all the world and of all time, in order to develop our own ideas, build our own faith, nurture our consciences, and set our moral compasses. ... Unitarianism is enough. ... So keep the faith. Keep fast to the heart of your Unitarian practice. For faith is something that sustains us. And it is something which, surely, we can never have enough."

Once that note had been struck, on the Saturday, it has continued to sound over and over again during this week. Enoughness is about knowing when you have enough and then being content, whether you are talking about food, or information, or entertainment or work. Enoughness is good. Except for those spiritual "never-enoughs" which John talked about, such as gratitude and commitment and love.