“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, 27 February 2016

Convenient, Fun, or Horrifying?

It was my birthday yesterday, and when I logged on to the internet in the morning, to my surprise and delight, the Google logo wished me Happy Birthday.

I posted about this on Facebook, and was surprised to get some mixed reactions. One comment read: "Quite nice, or very scary, depending on one's level of paranoia."

By coincidence, a couple of days earlier, I had shared another post which got similarly mixed reactions. The post read: "Place of birth! Play along, if you'd like. It will be fun to learn where all of our Facebook friends are from. Comment with your answer below on this post, then copy and paste this onto your own page. Be sure to put your birthplace at the end. -- Liverpool, England" And again, people were anxious; "D'you know what? I think I'll not put that on the internet." and, in response to that comment: "I was thinking the same given how often that's used as a security question!"

I went out for lunch with a friend, and mentioned this, and we got on to the subject of the wonderful clock in the Harry Potter books in the Weasley household, which could tell by magic where the members of the family were. There had been another post on Facebook recently, to say that somebody had succeeded in making one in real life. I was puzzled as to how that could be, and my friend told me about an app she had on her phone which could use GPS to track where her children were. Oh.

Then I got to thinking about how you can control your heating and oven and TV via an app on your smartphone, and about how, if I log on to Amazon, a list of recommendations come up, based on my browsing history, and  I began to wonder ...

Until now, I have found such things convenient and/or fun. But I am beginning to feel the stirrings of alarm in my soul, and to wonder just how much information there is squirrelled away about me deep in company computers owned by the likes of Google and Facebook and Amazon, to name three much-used websites. I read something on Facebook the other day about the new emoticons - that they are going to be used to tailor what I see in my Facebook feed. I'm not sure I like the sound of that at all.

I would be interested to hear other people's reactions to this - fun? convenient? or horrifying?

Monday, 22 February 2016

Tell Me A Story

We've been watching a fascinating series on the BBC recently; The Story of China, narrated by Michael Wood. It has been a proper, old-fashioned documentary, with no stupid gimmicks or annoying music, and I've learned a lot about a country of which I knew very little.

One feature of contemporary Chinese life that has featured in the documentary has been the professional storytellers. It seems that the Chinese people love to listen to both history and legends, and it is a very specific art form. The storytellers are beautifully dressed, and use what I imagine are traditional intonations and gestures to tell their tales.

Watching them made me realise how much I would enjoy listening to English history and legends - for example, King Arthur, or Robin Hood - told by a professional storyteller. But if such people exist, they seem only to share their skills with children.

I know from my years as a minister that the "children's" story is often the most popular and memorable part of a service, and have been enchanted by stories told at big Unitarian gatherings such as Summer School or the GA Annual Meetings.

I think it would be really lovely if we could do as the Chinese do, and go along to a cafe to listen to tales of our national heritage, so that they are not lost. Because it's not as though people in this country don't still love stories. But nowadays we either read them in books, or watch them in films or on TV. Or go to the theatre, which is the nearest to the living oral tradition.

Tell me a story ... please.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

My Life In Eight (and a Bit) Objects

The colour supplement of our Saturday paper has recently been running a column entitled My Life In Eight Objects, which features eight beautifully photographed objects, accompanied by the chosen person's explanations. And I find it fascinating. Some of the things chosen seem to be so random, but obviously stand for an important part of that person's life.

So I decided to do my own ...

I'm not computer-savvy enough to put in little numbers by each object, but I think they are fairly easy to identify. So roughly from left to right, and then top to bottom within that:

1. a photo of my two children-no-longer-children, taken on our last family holiday in 2013, before they both went off to university.
2. a silver bangle, which was a present from my husband on our 30th wedding anniversary. It was made in the year we got married.
3. the copper chalice, made for me by a member of Northampton Unitarians, and given to me when I started my ministry training.
4. a journal, to symbolise the importance of writing in my life (the accompanying pen is the "and a bit".
5. The Lord of the Rings, my all-time favourite book, to symbolise my love of reading.
6. my fitbit, to show the joy that exercise brings to my life.
7. my iPhone, which stands for all the IT wizardry which help me to communicate with the outside world.
8. my prayer beads, made at Summer School in 2009, which are central to my spiritual life.

It was surprisingly difficult to narrow my list down to the eight objects. Had I been allowed nine, my precious cat would have made it in there too, but I haven't got a decent photo of her in hard copy.

I would love to see other people's take on this ...

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Walking Away the Cares of the Week

This week has been a tough one, as some weeks are. So I was glad that it was coming to an end. And delighted to be able to see it out in style, as I welcomed people in to the first Walk Away the Cares of the Week at our meeting house, using our brand new (to us) labyrinth mat. It is based on the labyrinth at Troyes Cathedral, and was made by my friend, and painted by her daughter. And it is sixteen feet square.

Setting up took a while, but was greatly helped by my friend who had so kindly passed the mat on to the congregation (memo to self: it is much more intelligent to light the 24 tealights first, THEN strategically place them around the perimeter, not the other way round). But it was done on time, the atmospheric music was on the CD player, and the first people arrived to walk the labyrinth,

Peacefully, Mindfully.

The trick of walking a labyrinth mindfully is to focus on making each step, rolling from your heel onto your toe, gently lifting your foot, and placing it carefully down in front of you. As I walked, peacefully, mindfully, I felt my body begin to unclench and relax, and my mind began to quieten. Twenty minutes later, when I walked out again, I felt like a new person.

There is something about this kind of purposeful walking meditation that is very powerful, very soothing. I feel so very blessed that it is going to be something I am now able to do regularly.