“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

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.