“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

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Setting Sacred Intentions

I don't have a particularly good track record with New Year's Resolutions. In the past I have made long, ambitious lists, and started off on 1st January with great enthusiasm, only to run out of steam by the middle of January, because once again, my heart was not in it.

I think that the reason behind this is that I have a certain inner stubbornness that doesn't like being told to do something Just Because - just because it's January 1st, just because it's Dry January, just because it's Stoptober. I know that such Special Months do help a lot of people to start the process of giving up drinking or smoking, and I applaud them for that. But for me, they don't work. I have to have a reason which is relevant to my life, at this exact time, to be able to tackle any sort of major lifestyle change.

So for example, I was able to quit smoking on 1st June 2013, when I worked out that by giving up my 15 a day habit, I would be able to afford to give my two children, then just off to university, and extra £100 a month each! Deciding to quit drinking was a more long drawn-out process, which I have blogged about here. But each time, the choice was mine, at a time of my own choosing.

So when an e-mail from MindBodyGreen landed in my inbox this morning with the title 18 Sacred Intentions to Set for 2016, I was a little sceptical. But the post, by Vishnu Subramaniam, blew me away. It really spoke to my condition. The 18 sacred intentions are about living with awareness, with integrity, being true to oneself. They are as follows:

1.   I will take less and give more.
2 .  I will work less and live more.
3.   I will do less and be more.
4.   I will speak less and listen more.
5.   I will buy less and simplify more.
6 .  I will have fewer distractions and more time for reflection.
7.   I will be less realistic and dream more.
8.   I will complain less and appreciate more.
9.   I will worry less and surrender more.
10. I will judge less and understand more.
11. I will hate less and love more.
12. I will criticise less and praise more.
13. I will follow less and lead more.
14. I will fear less and act more.
15. I will think less and go with my gut more.
16. I will please less and stay true to myself more.
17. I will require less perfection from myself and accept where I am more.
18. I will hold fewer grudges and forgive more.

I am going to print them out and put them on the noticeboard next to my desk in my study, so that I can read them frequently in the coming year. They will be my Sacred Intentions for the coming year.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

An Early Christmas Present

I know how very lucky I am, in that my other half is responsible for the main Christmas meal. And, taking after my side of the family, we have the turkey cold, and it is cooked on Christmas Eve. This for two reasons a) it makes life so much easier on the day and, more importantly, b) it tastes so much nicer. Or that's what I think.

But the early Christmas present I'm talking about isn't that. He was listening to a new three-CD collection of Christmas carols as he started to prepare the turkey for the oven, and I was sitting in the kitchen eating my lunch. To be suddenly stopped in my tracks by CD2, track 12, Star in the South

Not one of the regular carols or Christmas songs, which get played endlessly every Christmas. This one is so special to me, as I had learned it in Junior Choir in my secondary school, over forty years ago, and hadn't heard it since. I could remember the words to the first two verses, but had forgotten the title, so was unable to find it. And there it was! And now I can listen to it whenever I please!

This has given me a ridiculous amount of pleasure, out of all proportion to the event. And I feel so blessed that I *can* be made so happy, by something so immaterial and incidental. As the last-minute shoppers desperately try to find the final Christmas presents, or strip the supermarket shelves of sprouts and parsnips, cranberry sauce and Christmas puddings, I am sitting here contentedly, listening to "my" carol.

Life is good! I wish all readers of my blog (for whom I am truly grateful), a very Merry Christmas or Yule or Happy Holidays, and a very Peaceful and Blessed New Year.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

My Unitarian Christmas

A couple of weeks ago, I posed the following question to the members of my congregation's Discussion Group: "If Unitarians believe that Jesus was a first century Jewish prophet, who was completely human, but who had a very important message to share with humankind, why do we celebrate Christmas, which is all about his miraculous birth?"

And a while ago, I had an e-mail discussion with a friend of mine, who was lamenting the secularisation of society in this country. He wrote: "We are in danger of losing the communal memory of Christian myths, the Christian rhythm of the week, and the Christian cycle of the year. These are valuable in themselves, whatever meaning we attach to them. They have not been replaced by alternative in our secular society."

This rang very deep bells with me. I was brought up in the Christian mainstream at a little primary school, and sand all the C of E hymns and followed the rhythm of the Christian year. They are a part of who I am, a part of my deepest life. So when Christmas comes round, I love to attend a Carol Service, and sing the carols with gusto (while mentally exclaiming at the message of some of them, I must admit!). Yesterday afternoon, I drove to Warwick to join in the Carol Service at Warwick Unitarian Chapel, which was really lovely. The sense of Christmas community was palpable.

Warwick Unitarian chapel
Is this hypocritical of me? If I don't believe that Jesus was the unique Son of God, should I celebrate Christmas, which is all about such unlikely elements as God becoming man, and a virgin birth? But as a cultural Christian, I am still moved by the age-old story, even though I know in my head that it is mythical, and conflated from the stories in the two gospels. My heart still responds to it.

My answer, as a Unitarian, is that the Christmas I care about is more to do with the message of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" (and women, of course). I truly believe that the message that Jesus preached - love God, love your neighbour, and don't forget to love yourself - is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I'm all for it.

So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the universally applicable message of love and peace and goodwill to all is brought to the front of people's minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable, and a little bit more kindly.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Kindness to Strangers

Yesterday morning, I decided to try a few more carpet stores in my quest to find a red circular rug for the Weiss Room in our new church (circular rugs being now as rare as hen's teeth - they are all rectangular). I was eventually directed to a particular shop, where I found just what I wanted.

So far so good.
the rug in situ, looking good!
But I was pushing my trolley out of the store, with the rug packed high, blocking my view of what was ahead, and crashed into a low metal post with the trolley, winding myself badly with the handle, and gouging a chunk out of my right shin into the bargain. The shock of the collision and the pain stopped me in my tracks.

Fortunately, someone had seen what had happened. A kind man came over and ask whether I was OK, and when I said no, I really wasn't, he offered to wheel my trolley through the rain to the other side of the car park, then loaded the rug into the car for me, wished me well, and took the trolley back to the store. Talking gently all the while about Christmas and the weather, which I found very soothing.

His simple act of kindness restored me to myself, and enabled me to carry on with my day. As Stephen Donaldson once wrote: "There is also love in the world."

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

True Rules

Just recently, I have been re-reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I have blogged about on here before.

She divides the book up into months of the year, with a theme for each month, and several ideas for each theme. October's theme is Pay Attention, and one of the ideas is "Examine True Rules". She writes: "Instead of walking through life on autopilot, I wanted to question the assumptions I made without noticing. ... I had my own idiosyncratic collection of principles - which I called True Rules - for making decisions and setting priorities."

And this made me wonder about what my own True Rules might be. After a little thought, I have come up with the following list (in no particular order):

  1. There is always enough time.
  2. Appreciate what you have.
  3. Always say 'please' and 'thank you'.
  4. Be open to new thoughts and ideas.
  5. Get some exercise every day.
  6. Never forget to say 'I love you' to the people you love.
  7. Life is too short to spend doing things you dislike, unless you absolutely *have* to.
  8. Do some writing every day.
  9. Live with integrity - be yourself.
  10. Always have a book on the go.
This seemingly arbitrary collection of principles actually has a huge influence on the way I live my life. I was also interested to reflect on where they had come from - a couple from my parents; one from a guided meditation session many years ago; and others from religious and spiritual books I had read, or people I had encountered. I wrote the list quite quickly, without thinking about it too much, but having slept on it overnight, and now re-reading them, I stand by them. They work for me.

Everybody's True Rules will be different. What are yours?

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Flame of Hope

Recently I came across a poem called Four Candles by that great poet, Anonymous, the last two lines of which read: "With Hope, no matter how bad things look and are, / Peace, Faith, and Love can shine brightly in our lives. Yes.

In her wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shares her research about how we can practice what she calls wholehearted living. One of her ten guideposts for wholehearted living is "Cultivating a resilient spirit: letting go of numbing and powerlessness." Which is where hope comes in.

If we go back to the legend of Pandora and her box, Hope was the only virtue left to humankind when she had let all the others escape. And my dictionary defines hope as "expectation and desire combined; feeling of trust", which I guess is how most people think of it. Brené Brown, who is an accomplished sociological researcher, thought so too, and was shocked to find that "hope is not an emotion; it's a way of thinking or a cognitive process." In other words, it is a way of being that can be learned!

I'd like to share what she says about how hope happens; it is when: "We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go). We are able to figure out how to achieve these goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I'm persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again). and We believe in ourselves (I can do this!)."

She also grounds the ability to be hopeful in a foundation of spirituality, which she defines as "the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion." I would also argue that it is much easier to find hope, to be hopeful, and resilient, when we have a belief in something greater than ourselves. This might be a higher power, which some of us might name God or Spirit of Life and Love; or it might be a belief in the worth of working towards a lofty goal, such as world peace, an end to poverty, the spread of compassion - whatever.

It has been an eventful year, in our own lives, in the life of Unitarian congregations, and in the wider world. Some of us have faced bereavement and grief, others have faced life-threatening or less scary but still serious health issues, and all of us have watched the wider world seemingly going to hell in a hand-basket. At the beginning of this year, we came together, shocked by the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, at this end of the year, our thoughts are once more in Paris, in Beirut, in Iraq, with the refugees huddling in inadequate camps all over Europe and the Middle East, and in all the other places where violence and deprivation seem to be holding sway. Yet in between most congregations have continued to meet regularly in worship, to support various charities, and to try to make the phrase "beloved community" a reality. That is having hope.

May Peace, Faith, and Love shine brightly in all our lives, fuelled by Hope.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Foundations of Faith

The other day, a Unitarian friend commented: "A religion or a faith (any faith, or any philosophy for that matter) that needs to be defended with aggression or arrogance is not a faith or religion that I recognise as true and it is not a 'strong' faith with a good foundation but a weak one that seeks to cover up its own shakiness."

In the light of recent terrorist activities around the globe, this really rang true with me. Although I would not describe the DAESH / ISIL terrorists as representing anything but their own extremist insecurities - they are certainly not representing Muslims. Practically every post I have seen on Facebook since the bombings in Paris and Beirut have sought to express the outrage that ordinary Muslims feel about these attacks, which are being perpetrated against everything they believe in.

But I think these words also have wisdom for my own Unitarian context. While Unitarians on different parts of the belief spectrum are not likely to descend to actual bodily violence against each other, there can be some pretty fierce altercations on Unitarian pages on Facebook.

Which I find very ironic, since, in the words of the founding father of Unitarianism in Transylvania, Francis David: "We need not think alike to love alike." Cliff Reed, Minister Emeritus at Ipswich, puts it this way;

" The Unitarians are a community of people who take their religion, or their spirituality, liberally. That is to say, we hold that all people have the right to believe what their own life-experience tells them is true; what the promptings of their own conscience tells them is right. We say that each person's spiritual or intuitive experience deserves respect; that everyone's deep reflection and reasoning on religious and ethical questions should be taken seriously.

Unitarians form a movement that tries to put these affirmations into practice. Our local religious communities offer a setting where people can worship, explore, and share faith together in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual respect."

A few years ago, I would have said that I agreed with Cliff's statement completely. But I now believe that while people have the right to *believe* what their life experience and conscience tells them to be true, it is *essential* that these ideas pass the Pagan test of "so long as they don't harm anyone else."

In other words, if anyone feels the need to defend their beliefs with aggression or arrogance, as my friend said, then perhaps they need to go back to the Golden Rule, and consider whether what they are writing or saying is likely to upset or offend others. This is not to say that people should not stand up for their beliefs, but that they should do so in a respectful manner.

We are all human beings - surely we can at least try to live together in peace?

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Plea for Peace and Compassion

There are certain things I believe, and believe passionately, that some, with their different views of the world, do not believe. And it is hard for me to see these cherished beliefs trampled into the dust by their insistence that their reality is the only true one.

I believe that peace is to be worked for, and witnessed for, and struggled for, and that war and violence and automatic retaliation should only be the very, very last resorts, not the automatic go-to solution. I believe that the governments of the Great Powers, mainly in the West, but also in Russia and China and Saudi Arabia, are so invested in the arms trade, and in violence and intolerance and hatred of the Other (whoever the Other might be) that there is little hope for peace.

Which makes the need to witness for the possibilities that peace and compassion bring ever more urgent, day by day.

I believe that Western privilege and widespread Western, white, male, Christian blindness *to* that privilege, are facts. We simply cannot appreciate what it is like to be persecuted or picked on daily, simply on account of our religious beliefs, the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation, or our disabilities. The only one I have some insight into, being a woman, is male privilege. And even that is denied by many, in 21st century Britain.

I believe that only when we make the empathic attempt to show compassion, by learning from what others say and write about how it feels to be Muslim, or black, or gay, or transgender, or in any other way Not Like Us, that we have any hope of moving past that bastion of privilege and meeting people where they are. As human beings, each a child of God, each with the same divine spark within, each with the same potential for good or evil.

While my Facebook feed turns red, white, and blue as friends rightly react with shock and sorrow to the killings in Paris, similar events in Beirut a few days ago barely made the inside pages of the broadsheets. And the Syrian refugees, who are fleeing from the violence of these same terrorists, are suffering misery and hunger, illness and hopelessness day by day in their over-crowded, insanitary camps, where Death and disease stalk hand-in-hand.

And I want to say that if you really care about people, give some money or some warm clothing to the organisations trying to stem that tide of human suffering. It is by such small acts of kindness towards our fellow human beings, that the world will turn, and times will change.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Greatest Remembrance of All

Part of a prayer by Unitarian minister Rev. Chris Goacher reads: "We gather in remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others, but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop and the actions taken in our name ... Let us dedicate our selves to the greatest remembrance of all - that war should be no more."

These few words really sum up my feelings on Remembrance Sunday - that we should be grateful to, and remember with respect, those who sacrificed their lives that we might have peace; but also in sad reflection on the indifferent use we have made of it. it is a desperate irony that World War One was called 'The War To End All Wars', and yet, one hundred years on, humankind still seems unable to stop the fighting, the bloodshed, the cruelty, and wars continue to be fought the world over, for reasons of fear, and misunderstanding, the hunger for power, and the despising of the other.

So how can we dedicate ourselves to that "greatest remembrance of all - that war should be no more?" How can we, as individuals, and as spiritual and religious communities, witness for peace? How can we 'do our bit'? How can we make a difference?

I think we have to start where we are. It's all about compassion - trying to empathise with other people by imagining ourselves in their shoes. I am not naive enough to believe that we can "make it all better" by witnessing for peace and compassion. But we can at least try to be compassionate, where we are. For every other person we encounter is also a human being, a child of God, utterly worthy of being treated with justice, equity and respect.

Perhaps we can each make a resolution to reach out in friendship to our neighbours, to our friends, and even to casually-met strangers. Perhaps if we witness for peace in our own lives, this might have a knock-on effect, as the people we show compassion to, show compassion to others in their turn and so on.Who knows what we might be able to achieve, if we are brave enough to reach out in friendship, reach out in compassion, witness for peace?

Monday, 26 October 2015

Giving Thanks for Beauty

What a glorious morning for a walk. Blue sky and warm sunshine and a rainbow of wonderful Autumn colours - every shade of green, yellow, gold, copper, bronze, red and brown. I walked along the sunlit path into the forest and was reminded of a genius line by David Bowie, from Eight Line Poem "the sun that pins the branches to the sky."

Also that gorgeous part in The Lord of the Rings when Galadriel is singing about Lothlorien "I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew; I sang of wind, a wind there came, and in the branches blew." That wind was blowing the leaves from the trees into my path in a fine golden drizzle. When I got back, I noticed that one had lodged itself in my hair.

Through the hedge that lines the path I could see the yin and yang of ploughed and stubbled fields, dark brown and pale gold. The sails of the wind turbines a few miles away were turning lazily, and ahead of me, the path stretched into the distant forest, bathed in sunlight.

I stood awhile in silence, and thanked God for all this beauty, and for the privilege of being awake to witness it.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Reaching Out

Tomorrow, I am driving across to Cambridge, to meet seven people I've never met before, and one I've met once.We are all members of an online support network for women who no longer drink. I've been looking forward to meeting everyone for weeks, but now that it's upon me, I am feeling unaccountably nervous. Goodness knows why. Because on one level, I know these online friends much better, and on a deeper level, than many folk I know in the flesh. We support each other through thick and thin, and the network is a solid online community.

The arrangements for meeting up were getting a bit complicated. Which was making me feel a bit panicky. A whole platoon of "What if?" questions were springing up in my head, and I was on the edge of pulling out of the whole thing altogether, and having a quiet day at home.

Then I remembered something Brene Brown wrote about vulnerability, in her wonderful book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

"When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them - people with whom we've cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story."

And I realised that these online friends of mine were such people. So I reached out and shared how panicky I was feeling, and asked to be met at the station. Straight away, two people got back to me, to let me know they would be there, waiting for me. So I will be going, after all.

Small kindnesses make big differences.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Holding It All Together

The last few weeks have been emotional for me, for both happy and sad reasons. There has been the joy of attending Summer School, which never fails to refresh my spirits and feed my soul, and  a peaceful week away in my beloved Peak District with my husband.

I have also been happy to know that my children-no-longer-children are embarking on new phases of their lives - my daughter is moving into a flat with her boyfriend as she starts her final year at University in Sheffield, and my son is spending an Erasmus year studying at the Charles University in Prague. I could not be prouder of them or happier for them. They have grown up into unique, strong, independent young people, and that is good.

But I am also suffering from empty nest syndrome - most of the time, I'm fine, but just occasionally, I miss one or the other or both of them like fury, and this boils over into tears. Daft, I know, but I cannot help it. And I am mourning the loss of my cousin, who died in June, and of a dear friend, who died at the beginning of the month. Both were in their fifties, both taken too young. Both much missed.

On Saturday, I spent the morning at a training day about leading a good funeral service - part of the Rites of Passage course I'm currently running in the District. It was wonderfully led by my friend and colleague, Ant Howe, and included a short memorial service, during which we could remember our own lost loved ones, while he held the space for us.

I went straight from there down the M40 to attend the joyous handfasting of a dear friend and her lovely OH. The main ceremony was conducted outside, according to the Wiccan tradition, and was followed by morris dancing and a delicious shared meal. It was a truly blessed occasion.

What I am in awe of is the capacity of human beings to hold all these emotions together at one time, and not actually burst! Over the last few weeks, my mood has swung between joy and sorrow, contentment and grief, often in the course of one day. It is so lovely (even if it is sometimes hard) to feel what I am feeling, and not to have numbed it with alcohol. I celebrated my second soberversary at the beginning of the month, which is a source of lasting contentment.

And so I am grateful, even for the hard bits, because I know I would not feel the pain of loss so keenly, if I did not love greatly.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Compassion, Not Judgement; Compassion, Not Fear

For the last few weeks, our television screens, newspapers, and Facebook feeds have been full of horrifying images of Syrian refugees, who have fled from the civil war which has been raging in their country for the last four years. Then one image, of a small three-year-old boy, lying dead, face down at the edge of the water on a Turkish beach, seems to have touched the hearts and minds of British people. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his five-year-old brother and his mother all lost their lives in their family's bid for asylum.

photo by Nilufer Demir / Reuters
As Somali poet Warsan Shire points out: "You have to understand, that no-one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land. No-one burns their palms under trains, beneath carriages; no-one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper, unless the miles travelled mean something more than journey ... No-one leaves home unless [they know that] anywhere is safer than here."

These people are not economic migrants; they are refugees seeking asylum from the horrors they have experienced. All they want is a place of safety, where their houses will not be bombed, their young men kidnapped to fight for the regime, or members of their families killed. The charity Mercy Corps explains: "According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The youngest are confused and scared by their experiences, lacking the sense of safety and home they need. The older children are forced to grow up too fast, finding work and taking care of their family in desperate circumstances."

Not economic migrants, refugees.

The article on the Mercy Corps website makes for sobering reading. Four million Syrian refugees are currently in five host countries, including over 1.5 million in Turkey, over 1,150,000 in Lebanon, where one in five people are now Syrian refugees, nearly 625,000 in Jordan, where the figure is 1 in 13, and Iraq, and Egypt, who have also given hundreds of thousands of refugees shelter, at least at a very basic level. But their living conditions are far from adequate - people are living with no heat or running water, no proper sanitation, and are facing a very bleak future. At this rate, the United Nations predicts that there could be 4.27 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 - the worst exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago.

So the numbers seeking to come to Europe are a tiny fraction of those seeking safety. And I have just heard that Germany has agreed to take 800,000 of those. Many humanitarian organisations, including Mercy Corps, the Red Cross, Medecin Sans Frontieres, are partnering with the United Nations, using both private contributions and funding from the international community to actively address the needs of Syrians caught up in this terrible disaster. But so much more needs to be done.

Each one of these refugees is a person, a human being, not just a number, not just a nuisance. The United Nations estimates that more than half of the country's pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they are still in Syria, or have escaped across the borders.

So we need to show compassion, not judgement; compassion, not fear. Compassion is not about being safe; it is about putting ourselves at risk, about letting down the guards around ourselves. It is we who have to be the change we want to see in the world. We who have to take responsibility for our own actions - to become activists, where we are. Because every little makes a difference.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Tribute to Tyndale

Yesterday my husband and I went down to London for the day, but not to see the Queen. The morning was devoted to visiting an exhibition called Treasures of the British Library, which was free to all comers.

It was absolutely marvellous, and took us well over two hours to get round. Of course, there was a section of sacred texts in amongst everything else, and we saw a copy of the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three oldest extant Bibles in the world; some stunningly beautiful illuminated Qur'ans and Bibles, and the Bedford Book of Hours, which was so richly illustrated, it took the breath away.

The exquisite Bedford Book of Hours
But the item which moved me the most was  a little book, measuring about 4 inches across and 6 inches tall. It was one of three remaining copies of the Tyndale New Testament, which had been published in 1526, in Worms, because he had had to flee from England.

A page from the 1526 edition of Tyndale's New Testament
My lovely book about the Bible by Gordon Campbell calls William Tyndale 'the father of the English Bible'. He was responsible for producing the first complete New Testament in English, and had also partly translated the Old Testament, when he was executed for heresy in Belgium in 1536. Two years before that, he had produced a revision of his New Testament, about which Campbell comments "it has been estimated that 83 per cent of the KJV [King James Version] published in 1611 derives from Tyndale, either directly or indirectly through other Bibles."

Two things moved me about actually seeing it - one was that I knew he had died because of his passion for making the text of the Bible widely available in English; and the other was that as I bent to decipher the close-set text, I could suddenly feel how amazing it must have been to be an ordinary English person (or at least one of the minority who could read) and to be able to actually read the sacred text of my religion in my own tongue for the first time, and no longer have to rely on the priest to tell me what the Bible said and taught. It must have been truly awesome.

I am so grateful to the British Library for putting on this sort of exhibition, free for all to attend. Long may it flourish!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Feelings of Pronoia

It really was such a delicious feeling, to discover a new word today, whose meaning (whether it is true or not) really speaks to my condition.

I just got back from leading worship at Oxford Unitarians, and was feeling pretty darn chipper anyway. So I turned the computer on, to check my e-mails and have my customary squint at Facebook. To be confronted with a lovely post from a friend, which she in her turn had shared from somebody called Anthony Smith:

"My new favourite word is Pronoia (the opposite of paranoia). It's the belief that everything in the universe is conspiring to support you."

My heart instantly leapt in recognition - yes, I do believe that this is what the universe is like, oftener than we might believe.

And yet I had never heard it before. So I put it into google, as you do, and was surprised to find multiple references, including a dedicated website pronoia.net. Somebody called Rob Brezsny has written a book called Pronoia is the Antidote to Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. Here is an excerpt from it, quoted by the website Free Will Astrology

"DEFINITION: Pronoia is the antidote for paranoia. It's the understanding that the universe is fundamentally friendly. It's a mode of training your senses and intellect so you're able to perceive the fact that life always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

OBJECTIVE OF PRONOIA: To explore the secrets of becoming a wildly disciplined, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, scrupulously curious, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lyrically logical, lustfully compassionate Master of Rowdy Bliss.

HYPOTHESES: Evil is boring. Cynicism is idiotic. Fear is a bad habit. Despair is lazy. Joy is fascinating. Love is an act of heroic genius. Pleasure is your birthright. Receptivity is a superpower.

PROCEDURE: Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle created for your amusement and illumination. Assume that secret helpers are working behind the scenes to assist you in turning into the gorgeous masterpiece you were born to be. Join the conspiracy to shower all of creation with blessings.

GUIDING QUESTION: "The secret of life," said sculptor Henry Moore to poet Donald Hall, "is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is -- it must be something you cannot possibly do." What is that task for you?"

It all sounds a little bizarre. But then I noticed that the book also suggests a daily practice, which I find quite interesting:

"DAILY PRACTICE: Push hard to get better, become smarter, grow your devotion to the truth, fuel your commitment to beauty, refine your emotional intelligence, hone your dreams, negotiate with your shadow, cure your ignorance, shed your pettiness, heighten your drive to look for the best in people, and soften your heart -- even as you always accept yourself for exactly who you are with all of your so-called imperfections."

I really cannot argue with any of that. Maybe more of us need to become pronoiac (which is apparently the preferred adjective). Maybe it might make the world a happier place ... who knows?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Lamentation for a Lost Way of Life

Yesterday I had a physiotherapy appointment for my poorly knee. The physiotherapist was looking at my MRI scan on her computer when I asked the question "So when will I be able to run again?"

Her answer was one word. "Never.". And I instantly dissolved into tears, as the finality of that judgement sank into my heart. Apparently the meniscus is already damaged, and the way I walk ("very poor mechanics") makes matters worse. If I persist in running, it will compromise my current ability to walk pain-free, and eventually I will need a knee replacement, probably sooner rather than later.

It was so hard to hear this. Running has been a huge part of my life for the last sixteen years, ever since I decided that I wanted to get fit before my fortieth birthday. Well, now I am 55, and my running days are over. In the last few years, I haven't run many races (my peak year being 2004, when I completed the London Marathon), but I have been able to go out three times a week for two or three miles, and to come back feeling on top of the world.

And now I can't do it again. Ever. The pain is hard to bear.

A part of me is trying to rationalise the pain away - come on, it could be worse, at least you can still walk or cycle. You haven't been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or Crohn's or MND or any one of a number of hideous, life-changing conditioins. Your life is not threatened. Get a grip.

I know that over the next few weeks, I will come to terms with this change in my life. I will keep searching until I find an alternative form of exercise that makes me feel good about myself. But I doubt that any will match up to the simple joys of putting one foot in front of another - of running.

Just now, the words, "Once I was a runner" are the saddest in the world. I can feel the grief settling into my bones. And so I am lamenting a lost way of life, a lost source of happiness. I am finding it difficult to discern where God is in all this. He/She seems to be altogether absent.

Except perhaps in the sure knowledge that this too shall pass. Which I will cling onto, in the days ahead.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Finding the Courage

There are times in everyone's life when we feel scared, not brave enough, and want to run away and hide, from whatever situation we find ourselves in. It is certainly true of me.

This morning, a friend of mine posted a lovely reflection on Facebook, which got me thinking about what courage is, and where it might be found. He wrote:

"The special form of lovely when the result of someone believing in you, when you yourself didn't, helps you to find courage you didn't know you had."

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines courage as "Bravery, boldness", for me this implies some form of heroism and derring-do. Like facing down a mountain lion or some other daring deed. The sort of thing that James Bond might do, as a matter of routine.

But I believe with my friend that courage can be found in some very unlikely places. In her wonderful book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains that "Courage originally meant 'To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.' ...Speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we're feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. ... Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today's world, that is pretty extraordinary."

"Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line."  It's about being brave enough to reach out for help; to admit that actually, we don't know; that we aren't ready for this yet; or that we're feeling rubbish. It is also about feeling the fear and doing it anyway, to quote a book title by Susan Jeffers. It can be about taking that first vital step on a new path, about moving out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. This kind of courage is the quiet sort of everyday courage, and if you start looking for it, you'll find it everywhere.

And the lovely thing is, if we can be brave enough to "speak our minds by telling all our hearts", this will often be met with empathy, understanding and support. Even perhaps relief - because sometimes when we share that we're feeling scared or inadequate in some way, it allows other people to admit their own vulnerability too.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Feeding the Passions

When Gordon Campbell's book, 'Bible: the story of the King James Version' was published to mark the quatercentenary of the KJV in 2010, I can remember looking at the hardback wistfully in Blackwells, and then remembering that I didn't buy hardbacks any more, and that I'd wait for the paperback.

And then, of course, I forgot all about it. Until I ran across it again a couple of weeks ago, and bought it on impulse. Yesterday evening, I finally got around to starting it.

There was the usual thrill of starting any new book that only fellow reading addicts will understand - the excitement of turning to the first page and starting to read, knowing that by the time you finish it, you will not be the same person you were when you started. But this was something special. Reading it feeds two passions of mine - the old enchantment around rare books and the history of printing and publishing that goes back to my Library School days, and a growing fascination with the Bible, in terms of both content and history.

I know that most people will think I am decidedly odd for getting so excited about reading an academic book. But I'm happy. Back in a few days. Bliss!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Just Do It

The slogan of a certain sportswear company is "Just Do It". Simple and brilliant. I have always understood it in the context of pushing through physical pain to achieve a certain sporting goal.

This morning, I came across a rather different take on the "Just Do It" message, by none other than Mother Teresa:

"People are often unreasonable and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway."

This is another kind of challenge altogether. It is a challenge to have integrity; to live our lives with authenticity. Because this is the only way we're going to grow, in any way that matters, in the long run. What a wonderful set of commandments: Forgive, Be Kind, Be Honest, Be Happy, Do Good, Give Your Best.

Nothing in there about Get On, Get Ahead, Look After Number One. These are the commandments of our society. I think I'd rather give Mother Teresa's a try, and Just Do It.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Unitarianism - Philosophy or Religion?

I have just enrolled on a fascinating online course, entitled Humanity and Nature in Chinese Thought, which is about the various schools of philosophy in classical China. The lecturer, from Hong Kong University, is Professor Chad Hansen, and in the first lecture he made an interesting distinction between what is a religion and what is a philosophy:

"[One] way of making the distinction, if we don't look at logic, ... is that what marks a kind of philosophy as religious is that it has some sort of reliance on authority. The obvious one would be a supernatural god. If you depend on God to be the determiner of truth and falsity, rather than argument and logic, then that's a form of religion. It would also be a form of religion even if there were no God. If you depended on a text, a particular text, or on a particular tradition, if you insisted ... whatever is true comes by a kind of unverifiable experience, a revelation, or a vision, or some mystical experience that cannot be evaluated, criticized, or studied by science, then I would call that religious.

And what I would call philosophy, is anytime the content of thought is the result of discussion, and exchange, and contending, if the schools are disagreeing and as a result they make intellectual progress; that is they move from less adequate to progressively better theories, because the arguments make them reconsider and re-evaluate and make progress. Then I would want to call that philosophy rather than religion because it's free from authority, and it makes progress through discussion."

I'm not sure I agree with him. Unitarians would seem to fall between his definitions. Unitarians today believe that although we may develop spiritually within a particular faith tradition, "such development is greatest when the believer is in active and critical dialogue with it." (Cliff Reed) This is the antithesis of the traditional view of authority, which requires unthinking submission to a particular creed or set of beliefs. It means that Unitarians can be open to inspiration from whatever source it comes - in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys.

Our view of authority has modified over the centuries, from a dual belief in reason and scripture, to our current position that "each person is his or her own final authority in matters of faith." (Cliff Reed) The authority of individual reason and conscience is held to be supreme, but it is important to be a member of a religious / spiritual community to which you can bring your questions and your doubts, in the sure knowledge that they will be met with a broad, questioning tolerance. The interplay of individuals' beliefs is one of the great strengths of a Unitarian congregation - the bouncing of ideas off each other means that we can never be complacent about what we believe. It is stimulating to belong to such a community, but can be very hard work. Nothing is set in stone, and each individual is responsible for keeping his or her mind open to new ideas, so that our faith can grow.

So is Unitarianism are philosophy or a religion? I think it is both/and, rather than either/or, and stronger for that.



Sunday, 21 June 2015

Such A Perfect Day

This morning, a friend of mine posted about the elements of her personal perfect day: "Being around like minded people where we just get each other; being inspired; walking in nature; yummy food (normally not my own); seeing my son happy; feeling that I may be making a small difference in the world."

Naturally, this made me reflect about what my perfect day might include ... I found myself very much in agreement with her. All the elements that would make up my perfect day seems to be linked together, which is why the symbol of the Celtic triquetra speaks to me so powerfully.

I too love to be around like-minded people, and feeling in tune with them, but also enjoy being in open and deep conversation with folk who have different views to mine. Which includes Unitarians (of course), and other people of all faiths and none.

I find many things inspiring - words, images, people. I count myself very blessed to be living in the early 21st century, when social media such as Facebook can bring such words and images into my home. Not to mention books, my beloved books ... it would not be a perfect day if I did not spend at least some of it curled up with a good book.

Being creative also makes me happy - whether it is writing, or colouring, or stitching. So creating something new and original would also have a part in my perfect day.

Walking in nature is always an important element of any day, and my perfect day would not be complete without it. I am so very lucky to live in a small village on the edge of Salcey Forest, so walking in nature is a simple matter of walking out of my own front door, and turning right. Last week we were in Wales on holiday and had the added joys of the sea and the mountains. Bliss.

Yummy food, especially when shared with those I love, is a special good in my life. As I write, it is the morning of Father's Day, and my daughter and my husband are sitting in the kitchen, preparing and talking about food. And like my friend, I am much happier (and more appreciative) when somebody else has prepared and cooked it!

Seeing the people I love happy is a key component of my own happiness. I cannot be truly happy if somebody I care about is miserable, for any reason. I just can't. I am finding that as I get older, my circle of compassion is widening, which makes me increasingly restless about other people's unhappiness.

Which is why feeling that I may be making a small difference in the world also has a role to play in my mythical perfect day. There is so much to do, and each one of us is so small and insignificant, but "Still I Am One".

Finally, at the end of the day, giving thanks for all these things, and for life in all its marvellous, messy, chaotic, imperfection, just being grateful for my life, joys and sorrows together, would make a perfect close.

What would your perfect day look like?


Monday, 15 June 2015

Long-Term Hope

It takes a special kind of faith in, and hope for, the future, to start a project that is so long term that only your descendants will see the benefits.

The patrons of the Victorian plant hunters were such people. Last week, I visited Bodnant Gardens in North Wales, which had been established in the late Victorian era, and subsequently tended by five generations of the same family.

There are acres and acres of the Gardens, from formal rose gardens and a delightful golden Laburnum Arch (which we were in perfect time to see) to the Dell, planted in the 1890s and now home to magnificent trees, reaching over a hundred feet into the sky. There are groves of rhododendrons, all the colours of the rainbow - some so bright that they look almost artificial, as though they had been coloured by a child's felt tipped pens, and some so delicate that their beauty took my breath away.

Maintaining these beautiful Gardens is now the job of the National Trust in Wales, and they do a bang-up job. It was a lovely sunny day, and there were a lot of people visiting, but the Gardens were big enough to absorb us all without feeling crowded.

Visiting Bodnant was a very special experience. I gave thanks frequently for the natural, yet human-planned beauty all around me. I marvelled at the faith of that Victorian gentleman, who had a vision for the future, who planted saplings that are now great trees. Some now question the credentials of the Victorian plant hunters, yet I couldn't help being grateful for the opportunity of seeing so many exotic and beautiful shrubs and trees, from all over the world, which otherwise I could never have seen in my lifetime.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Attending To What We Love

This morning I came across a passage in the book I am reading, How, then, shall we live? by Wayne Muller, which has really made me pause and think about how I spend my days. It reads:

Mobile Lovers by Banksy (image from jonnybaker.blogs.com)
"Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: we allow it to become our center. ... We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, this is the kind of person you will eventually become. Is this what you want?"

And I have realised that although by and large I am content with the way in which I spend my days (I am doing a job which I am passionate about, and I think I've got my work/life balance about right), there are two areas which I am not happy with, which are actually (natch!) related: the amount of quality time I spend with my husband, and the amount of time I spend on my iPad, interacting with Facebook friends.

It has been a bit of a wake-up call. Facebook is a subtle addiction, but an addiction nonetheless. I don't want to end up like one of Banksy's mobile lovers, ostensibly embracing my beloved while actually texting somebody else. So it stops. Here. Now. In the evenings at least, when I am in my husband's (or any other) company, Facebook is irrelevant.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Making A Difference

There is a wonderful old story about a young man, who was walking along the beach, when he noticed that thousands of starfish had been washed up by the tide. The tide was going out, and the starfish were stranded. There was no way that they could get back to the water, and he realised that within an hour or so, they would all be dead.

In the distance, he noticed an elderly woman, who was picking up the starfish from the beach, one by one, and throwing them back into the sea. The young man went up to her and asked: "What are you doing?" She replied: "The sun is up and the tide is going out, and I'm throwing these starfish back into the sea, so that they won't die."

"But why are you bothering?" he asked. "There are thousands of them, and what you are doing won't make any difference. And there will be thousands more on the next tide."

The old lady stooped, picked up another starfish, and hurled it back into the receding tide. Then she turned to the young man and grinned: "Made a difference to that one!"

I love this story so much, because it proves that no matter how old or tired or busy we are, we can still make a difference in the world. It makes me so cross when people say "Oh, I don't bother with recycling (or picking up litter or whatever small task we are called to do), because my individual effort won't make a difference." The point being, that if everybody thought like that, Nothing would get done!

At times like that, I remember the story of the old lady and the starfish, and make my small effort, knowing that it will make a difference, no matter how infinitesimal. I try to follow the advice of the Quaker missionary, Etienne de Grellet, who wrote: "I shall pass this way but one; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." Amen


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Overwhelmed By Words

A few years ago, I discovered how incredibly beautiful and moving religious poetry could be. I had already had intimations of this, from reading Kahlil Gibran as a student, but during Unitarian Summer School in 2010, I was introduced to the poetry of Hafiz, the 14th century Persian Sufi mystic, and to that of Rainer Maria Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet, who wrote in the early 20th century.

They both absolutely blew me away. Only when reading the poetic prose of Gibran's The Prophet had I encountered anything like it. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of their words, which pointed to a new way of connecting with the divine, which had never occurred to me. Most of the religious poetry that I knew was by the metaphysical poets, such as John Donne and George Herbert, from the late 16th and early 17th centuries, or the grand and serious stanzas of Milton's Paradise Lost. Some of it is beautiful, but oh so very orthodox.

We are very fortunate in the 21st century, to have gifted translators and editors, who are able to convert the Persian of Hafiz, and the German of Rilke, into wonderfully lyrical English, without losing the sense of the original. Daniel Ladinsky in the case of Hafiz, and Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy for Rilke. Their translations are masterpieces, and contribute hugely to the enjoyment and pleasure I have received from reading them.

Although both authors may be described as religious / spiritual poets, their poetry is not the same. Apart from in the erotic Song of Solomon in the Hebrew Bible, I had not come across the idea of God or the Divine (however you like to refer to Him/Her/It) as the Beloved, the object of the worshipper's love. It is a concept that is central in the poetry of both Hafiz and his fellow Persian mystic, Rumi, and I find it refreshing.

Hafiz's relationship with his God can only be described as intimate. His God is not some remote, cold, judgemental Being in Heaven, but a warm, loving, teasing Presence. The companionship of this Beloved God is a matter of joy and happiness - much of the poetry speaks of laughing and dancing and singing and playing music. Sometimes he is talking about his own relationship with god, and sometimes offering advice to the reader, in the guise of a guide, who can lead him or her to "the Beloved's tent." There is much gentle good advice in Hafiz's words. Reading his words has taught me that religious poetry does not have to be solemn and serious, and that loving yourself and others is the straightest way to God.

Rainer Maria Rilke is more overtly serious in his approach to God than Hafiz, but in my favourite book of his Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, there is the same intimacy, the same longing for union with the Divine, and the same belief that this is possible, for human beings, here and now. The edition I own has the German text on the left hand pages, and the English on the right, which is lovely for me. I have a little German, and having read the English first, can then turn to the original and savour it.

However, that is not the reason why I love this book so much. It is the warm connection between the poet and God which runs through all the poems - sometimes it is God speaking, sometimes the poet. But like Hafiz, there is a closeness, a familiarity with the Divine in Rilke's words, which is so delicious to read.  Rilke has a personal and close relationship with god. There is no feeling that God is Up There, or Over There, or Somewhere Else. God is Here and Now and Everywhere. it is a relationship based on love, rather than judgement. I find it exhilarating.

Since that time, I have learned that these two are not as alone and singular as I first thought. I have come to know and love the poetry of people such as John O'Donohue, William Stafford, Mary Oliver, and Denise Levertov. But I will always be grateful to that Summer School, for introducing me to such wonderful poetry, which feeds my soul.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Discerning the Spirit

I am currently doing a wonderful course at the London Centre for Spirituality, which is training me to become a spiritual director. It's not like an ordinary training course, more like my ministry training, in so far as it is as much about formation as it is about learning.

Our session this week was very deep and rich, concerning the role of the Spirit in spiritual direction. I believe that whether the Spirit works uniquely through human beings, or is present throughout the universe doesn't really matter. What I do believe is that the Spirit is an active divine presence who is with us always. So, I am warming to the idea that in any spiritual direction session, there are three present - the director, the directee, and the Spirit. And that it is the Spirit who really does the direction; the director's job is to hold the space, and to guide / accompany the directee to enable him/her to discern where the Spirit is at work in his/her life. It is also up to us as directors to discern where the Spirit is present / working during the session, and to hold the silence, or choose the words, that will enable this.

This is not head work. This is heart work. It is based on trust: trust between director and directee, and trust by both in the process, and in the Spirit. I have been a directee myself for three and a half years now, and know from experience what a rich process it can be. I feel so very privileged to be able to pay it forward.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Making Connections

This afternoon, I travelled up to Birmingham on the train to have dinner with some friends, who are leading a workshop for me tomorrow. Normally, I find train journeys fairly tedious, and bury myself in a book. But this one was different.

When I arrived on Platform 2 of Northampton station, there was an elderly couple (obviously grandparents) with a little boy (aged 2, as I later discovered). I thought they were waiting for the same train as me, and made a mental note to move along the platform when it arrived, as the young man was questionsome, to say the least. But I'm so glad I didn't. The grandmother was talking to him about the freight train that was going through, and I asked the grandfather if they were travelling to Birmingham, like me. He replied: "Oh no, we're here for two hours every week. He just loves the trains."

He went on to tell a lovely story about a kindly guard who let them travel to Long Buckby (the next station) and back for nothing, because he knew young J. would be so thrilled. And I felt so warm, just to be a part of this lovely story.

Next, on the train, I got talking to a couple of young women who got on at Rugby. One of them sounded similar to a friend of mine, so I took a risk, and asked if her family had come from Jamaica. At first she was a bit wary (was I being racist?) but when I explained that I wanted to pick her brains about Caribbean funeral traditions, she couldn't have been more helpful (or informative).

Finally, a young woman in a niqab, with just her eyes showing, was travelling with a young boy, who had a runny nose. So I fished in my handbag and passed over a tissue. And she thanked me, and gave me such a grateful look.

All this on one journey. I felt honoured to be a part of the human race.



Friday, 17 April 2015

Living With Imperfection

For much of my life, I have been a very judgemental person, summing up people and situations almost instantly. I admit it, I have very often been wrong. And one of the people I have been most wrong about (because most harsh and judgemental about) is myself.

I love the words of Francis de Sales: "When it comes to being gentle, start with yourself. Don't get upset with your imperfections ... It's a great mistake - because it leads nowhere - to get angry because you are angry, upset at being upset, disappointed because you are disappointed. ... You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it."

"It is a great mistake, because it leads nowhere. ... You cannot correct a mistake by repeating it." Oh.

The first time I read those words, a few months ago, I was working through a period of fierce self-hatred. There were issues in my life that I wasn't happy with - which have since, I am glad to say, been largely resolved - and I hated myself for how I was reacting to the situation.

So I read those words of Francis de Sales, and realised that all I was doing was to pile up anger on top of anger, upset on top of upset, and disappointment on top of disappointment, rather than trying to gently, rationally, explore how *not to* repeat my mistakes. And learning how, instead, to move on, and heal, and heal others.

I also came across a quote by the Buddha the other day, which illustrates this very nicely: "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Just roll that around in your mind for a moment, and consider the implications of it. It means that when we feel negative emotions and let them eat us up inside (because this is not only true of anger) it is WE who are suffering, not the person against whom they are directed.

So I am practicing accepting negative stuff as part of life, and trying to just move on, sailing down the river of Life like a serene swan, unflurried by the occasional ripple. It isn't easy, but golly, it's a lot more peaceful, and I feel a lot better inside myself.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Vulnerable to Change

Oh dear. I have just changed my e-mail address, because my old e-mail internet service provider has decided to stop supporting domestic e-mails in the near future. And because my new e-mail address is a gmail one, I'm having huge problems changing my access to this blog.

And it has made me realise how very reliant I have become on this technology, which I don't understand, and just expect to work.

Until it doesn't.

Even now, I don't know why or how it's suddenly decided to let me in. *sigh*

And just to frustrate me even more, it seems to be virtually impossible to contact Google help directly - you just get directed to a multiple-choice help forum, which is no darn help at all.

Now I have a headache, my head looks like Struwwelpeter's because I've been clutching it in despair, and my stomach is in a tight, frustrated knot.

There must be a better way. I wonder, no, I know, that I have taken this wonderful internet world of ours for granted for too long, being content to be a competent end-user, and leaving problem-solving to the professionals. This afternoon, I have realised how very vulnerable to any changes I am, because I don't understand how the system works.

It's not a nice feeling. But this blog is an important part of my ministry, and I am loathe to give it up. I know there will be a way round it eventually, and all will go back to normal.

I just worry that I, and all of us, are sticking our collective heads in the sand. Our whole society is reliant on systems and machines that we didn't make, that are run by who knows who, garnering who knows what information about us all along the way. What if we run out of fuel for power stations? Or if a major internet player, like Google, is hacked into and corrupted?

I don't have any answers, only questions. So I'm going to finish this, then log off, curl up in a corner of the sofa and read my new book. At least I can rely on that not to shut me out!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

A Vision for Our Future

This year's GA meetings were the usual rich mix of plenary meetings, fringe meetings and workshops, and wonderful worship. They are a time for catching up with old friends, for meeting new ones, and for gaining new insights into the way our denomination survives and thrives.

 Generally, (I have to confess) I find the Plenary (or business) meetings fairly tedious. As a minister and voting member of the Assembly, I attend them all, but listening to reports from various worthy Unitarian bodies is not my idea of fun or even interesting, most of the time. I know they are necessary, and vital parts of the General Assembly's work as a democratic body, and I don't see any other way of doing it, but, it's not generally riveting listening.

But this year, in the packs we had been given on arrival, was a 48-page document called A Vision for Our Future. There had been a Vision Day at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel back in September 2014, which I had attended, and which had produced some exciting ideas. Robert Ince, who is Convenor of the Executive Committee, presented this document to the Assembly, as part of the Executive Committee's Annual Report.

And it is really, really rich. The ideas of the Vision Day participants have been collated under three headings: "We want to be ....", "We must ....", and "To do this, we need to ....". They are included below. And then the EC has commissioned nineteen articles, by various Unitarian luminaries, both ministerial and lay, giving their "takes" on these ideas. Many of these have already been published, in either The Inquirer or The Unitarian. But seeing them altogether in one place really adds to their impact, in my opinion. Each one of them is inspirational. Together, they are a clarion call for action.

"We want to be ......
  • A faith that matters
  • A reflection of the world's complexity, bound together by our many different views
  • A spiritual feast for each person to bring and share ideas and experience
  • A promoter of social justice for all, listening and responding to the needs of others
  • There for everyone

We must ......
  • Tell the world we're here
  • Be understood by the public
  • Connect to people everywhere
  • Serve our communities
  • Develop personal leadership
  • Be religiously literate
  • Provide Ministry that enables ministry
  • Prepare for our children's future

To do this, we need to ......
  • Harness our energy
  • Use our resources to the full
  • Embrace new technology
  • Acknowledge contribution and success
  • Empower individuals
  • Make change happen"

In the introduction to the document, Robert Ince writes: "This vision, though created with a view to the Unitarian Movement nationally, applies just as easily to Districts and congregations. ... it can become a uniting factor in our search for a better future. We all hope that it will serve to inspire those many individuals who love our Movement so deeply to join together in serving by whatever means they are able."

Let us, in the District Associations and the congregations, resolve to not just read this document and nod our heads approvingly, and then do nothing. Let us Do Something about this. Read the articles, discuss them amongst ourselves, and then decide what we can do to make the ideas in them a reality.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Policies, Not People

I've just sat and watched the Head-to-Head That Wasn't; the programme on Channel 4 in which Jeremy Paxman interviewed David Cameron and Ed Miliband in turn, and each politician also answered questions from the studio audience.

And it was dire. It all seemed to be so set up, so fake. And the fact that there was no debate *between* the two men was a disappointment.

But what really fed me up was the personalisation of it all, particularly in the case of Ed Miliband. At one point the Sky presenter, whose name eludes me, asked him whether he thought he was the right person to lead the Labour Party into this election, and whether his brother David would have been better. She then asked some totally irrelevant personal questions about Miliband's family - had the leadership contest caused friction? How did his mother feel? It made me feel sick.

I wouldn't usually use this blog to comment on political matters. But it seems to me very sad that members of the British public are deemed by the media and the politicians to be incapable to making up their minds about who to elect to lead them for the next five years, on the basis of what policies each party espouses (or allegedly espouses, because we all know that to promise something in a manifesto is one thing; to deliver it once you have been elected is quite another).

It all seems to be about personalities. MPs and MP wannabes are out and about, making the most of photo opportunities, while the smallest and most irrelevant details of their private lives are hauled up for public scrutiny. Of course, I'm not saying that our Members of Parliament should not be people of integrity, with honest, upright lives. Of course they should. But I cannot believe that how Ed Milliband eats a bacon sandwich (for example) is in the slightest bit important, or should have the least impact on voter choice.

It's a funny old world.

I for one will be reading the campaign leaflets that come through my door (if any - I live in a safe Tory seat) and looking on the websites of the parties concerned, in order to make up my mind. Or I'll check out the website Vote for Policies, which will at least give me a chance to evaluate what the different parties *say* they believe in. And yes, I will be voting - it's my duty.