“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, 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.


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.