“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

Monday, 29 December 2014

"I know what love is"

Yesterday, I watched Forrest Gump for the very first time with my kids, and was blown away by it. I was utterly captivated from first to last. Tom Hanks is superb, and never steps out of character for an instant. The reviewer in The Radio Times calls him "the semi-literate Everyman who drifts through recent American history", which sort of describes him, but it misses his beautiful simplicity.

What sticks with me is his oft-quoted: "Mamma said: 'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'"

And he never does know. He is the ultimate example of somebody who goes with the flow, so long as it doesn't interfere with his loyalties and principles, which are fierce and fundamental. He never quite realises the incidental impact his actions have on others.

Among other things, and purely by accident, he teaches the young Elvis Presley to dance, participates in civil rights history at the University of Alabama, gives John Lennon the lyrics to Imagine, and helps to trigger the scandal that was Watergate.

His impact on those he loves is much greater, but again, how much of it is deliberate, and how much is just a by-product of his character, is open to question. He only ever wants to be happy with the people he loves and respects, and who have been kind to him. And the results are extraordinary.

In a way, I quite envy him. As he says, "I'm not a smart man - but I know what love is." There are worse ways of going through life.


Friday, 26 December 2014

Excuses to Celebrate

Father Christmas brought my daughter a rather wonderful calendar. Which was chosen on the strength of its front cover, which reads: "To do: 1. Change world 2. Eat pizza"

But oh my goodness, it is so much more wonderful than that. The creator, Rachel Bright of Bright Soul Ltd., has included a lot of funny (or quirky) days to celebrate throughout the year. So I've copied some of them into an exquisite Illuminated Book of Days which my dearly beloved gave me for Christmas. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Start a trend day
  • Give a compliment to a stranger day
  • Get out of your comfort zone day
  • Plant something and watch it grow day
  • Simple pleasures day (immediately followed by)
  • Complicated pleasures day
  • Wild abandon day
  • Treat your body like a temple day
  • Make something from scratch day
  • Be lovely to everyone day
  • Notice small things day
  • Start getting excited about Christmas day (3rd December)
I intend to post notices about these on Facebook, throughout 2015, as and when they arise, as I think they're a lovely idea. And no more random than saints' days, or Fair Trade Fortnight, or One World Week.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Silent Night, Holy Truce

Today I, and other ministers and worship leaders across the country, will be leading a Christmas service with a difference. I will be commemorating that special day in 1914, when ordinary soldiers at the Front "all the way from the North Sea to Switzerland" decided that their common humanity, their common Christianity, was more important than continuing to fight each other.

The Martin Luther King Peace Committee sent round a marvellous resource pack, entitled Silent Night, Holy Truce, from which I have obtained most of the material for the service. And I would like to share some words from this, and to reflect on them:

"Although the most famous, the Christmas truces weren't isolated incidents. They followed weeks of unofficial fraternisation by soldiers who discovered that, rather than being monsters, the other side were men like themselves, with a preference for staying alive rather than dying. Common humanity oftentimes broke through the propaganda images perpetrated by both sides. Throughout the entire war, many combatants managed, through the so-called 'live-and-let-live' system, to reduce discomfort and risk by complicated local truces and tacit understandings that enraged the high commands on both sides. Nonetheless, the truces are a key moment in the history of the period that reopened the possibility of a Europe based on peace and solidarity rather than imperial violence and nationalism.

We argue that the impromptu Christmas worship services held in no-man's land offer a glimpse of the church as it is meant to be, a new nation of peacemakers uniting former enemies in love and friendship as they celebrate the birth of Jesus."

And we Unitarians today can witness for peace too. Many individuals and congregations are members of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, founded in the darkest days of the First World War. Members of the UPF "witness for peace and against the futility of war. Today our vision includes the ethos and values of the Charter for Compassion. The surest route to peace is through the compassion of human beings for each other, and for all living things. We support and encourage Unitarians in their witness for Peace and Compassion, locally, nationally, and internationally."

In this year of the centenary of the "war to end all wars", various countries around the world are in a state of bitter conflict with each other, or with themselves. The recent tragic massacre in Peshawar is just the most recent example of this. The efforts of everyone who believes in the possibility of world peace are needed, now more than ever. So that the sacrifice that the men in the Great War made, should not be altogether wasted.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Gift of Life

Yesterday I did something very simple, which I should have done years ago. It didn't cost anything, it hardly hurt at all, and it didn't take very long. But it could make a huge difference to somebody else.

Yes, I gave blood. I used to be a regular donor, back in the 1980s, but kept passing out after donating (I weighed considerably less in those days) so in the end they told me to stop going. Life went on, and I forgot all about it. Until a friend posted on Facebook that she had given blood, which gave me the nudge needed to go online and investigate.

I have to say, I was incredibly impressed by the professionalism of it all. I had to fill out a long form, and was then questioned about my answers. For example, we had been on holiday to Turkey in March, and they wanted to know which part I had visited, and which airport I had flown out of. I've also just been referred for possible minor surgery on my knee, so there were questions about that. I had to drink a pint of water before donating, and also have a finger-prick blood test, to see whether my iron levels were sufficiently high. Only when the staff were satisfied that I was fit to donate, was I led to a special reclining chair. The actual process took about eight or nine minutes, and I was given a bandage to roll around my hand to stimulate blood flow, and also told to clench and unclench my buttocks constantly (apparently this helps keep the blood pressure low). Between the bandage rolling and the buttock clenching, time passed fairly quickly. It was like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time. Hilarious!

Then I was returned to the upright position very slowly and waved over to another part of the hall, where I was given a cold drink and told to help myself to any of a selection of high-carb snacks. When they were sure I was OK, and was feeling fine, I was allowed to leave. And was given a little leaflet Important Safety Information after you have given blood. The standard of care at every stage was impressive.

As I say, very professional. So I'm booked in again for the beginning of May - you're allowed to give blood every four months. I'm just glad to have done it, and only wish I hadn't waited so long. Donations drop over the Christmas / New Year season, which is sad, as it is one of the times of peak demand.

If you are fit and healthy, why not give it a try? The website is www.blood.co.uk  This is a case in which the advertising slogan "every little helps" really is true. Apparently, one donation could save three lives.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Letting Go

On this day, two short weeks before Christmas, many of us will be feeling stressed out and tired, as we rush around, trying to get everything "just right" for the season. But I'm going to try something else, just for once, and just let go.

It is very easy to spend our lives chasing after the next thing that needs doing, the next goal that presents itself to us, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. As biological animals, we move forwards through time, and it is natural for us to look to the future. But I am afraid that this is often at the expense of appreciating what we have in the present. This is certainly true in my case. I always have a to-do list on the go, and have to consciously include a weekly half-day Sabbath on it, so that I can let go, and spend some time just being. If I miss that half-day, I am noticeably tenser, and more fratchety.

This is why I adore the words of the poem Camas Lilies by Unitarian Universalist minister Lynn Ungar, which I came across the other day: "What of your rushed and useful life? Imagine setting it all down - papers, plans, appointments, everything - leaving only a note: 'Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I'm through with blooming.'"

"Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I'm through with blooming." Such a fabulous reminder that actually there are other things than the current task, which are just as important, if our lives are to be rich and meaningful, rather than rushed and pressured.

I am slowly coming to recognise that many of the pressures in our lives (certainly many of the  pressures in my life) are self-inflicted. It is my distracted self who chases after material possessions, who needs to be in control, who perpetually worries about the next thing, who strives after perfection, and who finds it hard to let go of old regrets and grievances. I'm doing it all to myself.

I'm beginning to realise that the starting point for breaking out of all this pressure, for getting away from all this self-inflicted stress, is Just Letting Go. Relinquishing control, stepping out of the centre, sitting still, and letting nothing happen. It involves trust - trust that things will work out without my help, trust that God has got my back.

And it's a slow process. I'm sitting for half-an-hour every morning, trying (or not trying) to just be, and trusting that eventually I'll get something out of it. Trying to let go of the need to succeed. Just breathing, and listening to the silence.