Sunday, 13 August 2017

Exquisite Risk

I was recently sent a picture of myself with my two closest, in age at least, siblings. It was taken in 1977 at a fancy dress street party during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. I was five years old at the time. In the picture I am dressed as Tarzan. The strange thing is though that I am standing bolt upright, like a soldier on duty. There is good reason for this. I was originally planning to go as “Action Man” (What American’s call GI Joe). I had spent the weeks before attempting to stand upright, as even at that age I was deeply self-conscious about physical problems I had and was constantly told to stand straught. As I looked at the picture I reflected on the pain and the shame I had at the time and the decades that followed. I also remembered how even at that young age I was already living a bubble of self-protection that would lead to so many problems later in life. It has taken me forty years to shed that skin, but as I write this little "blogspot" I believe I have done so. Many old ideas have drifted away over the years. I have lost so much skin that have been imprisoned in.

As a kid I was always considered overly sensitive, that I needed toughening up, to develop another layer of skin. For a long time I attempted to do so and of course it only made things worse as I attempted to be something I am not, to harden my heart. The truth is that all I needed to do was to learn not take things so personally and to allow my sensitivity to become perhaps my greatest asset. I no longer attempt to defend my heart, instead I just allow my heart to lighten my life and pour my love out. Today my sensitivity may well be my greatest asset, my treasure, it is certainly where my heart is

I regularly meet with several colleagues. We talk about ministry; we talk about where our own lives are at; we talk about our own spiritual development. One colleague often repeats the following words when we come together.

“I honour your gods
I drink at your well
I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place
I have no cherished outcome
I will not negotiate by withholding
I am not subject to disappointment”

Oddly these words come from traditional Celtic wedding vows. Hardly romantic, but perhaps they symbolise something deeper.

It is the line “I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place” that resonates with me the most. It is the key I believe to living the spiritual life, to live with an undefended an open heart. This can be extremely painful and difficult at times, but I have learnt how vital it is for me. When I close down or put on my suit of armour life soon loses its flavour. I suppose that this is why I’ve always struggled with the sentiment of Ephesians Ch6 vv 10-18, the passage commonly known as “God’s Armour”. I was recently at an Anglo Catholic church where I saw an image based around this passage. I remember thinking to myself “gosh that’s the last thing I would want.”

For me religion and spirituality are not about being at war or in conflict and the God of my limited understanding does not want me armour plaited. I know these kinds of images appeal to many and certainly to some of my own traditional Christians friends. Not to me though and it does seem in conflict with the message I find in the Gospels.

Increasingly for me the spiritual life is about “Living with an unarmoured heart”, easier said than done I know. It is the treasure though and wherever my treasure is I have come to believe that this is also where my heart is.

Just imagine what it might be like to live with an unarmoured or an undefended heart. We all have defence mechanism, things we do to protect ourselves from being hurt. I am sure we are all familiar with the fright and flight mechanism. There is another reaction that perhaps we are less familiar with, it is certainly one that is less talked about. I have come to call this the freeze mechanism. It is something I am very familiar with, for I have utilised it throughout my life. Basically when trouble strikes a frozen person appears to continue to function normally on the outside, but inside, emotionally at least, they shut down, they internally hibernate. It is something I have come to learn about myself in recent years and I see it others quite clearly at times, perhaps too clearly. When it happens to me my neck and shoulders become stiff, my throat dries up, the base of my skull seems to warm up, my skin tightens around my face, I tend to blow out a lot and it feels like someone has just dropped a great rock into the pit of my stomach. These are the moments when I build up my walls and try to keep life out. I was doing this at five years old, no child should be like that.

How many of us spend lifetime’s building these walls that we think protect us? When in fact all we succeed in doing is block ourselves off from the love present in life, a treasure of infinite value, a pearl of great price.

To live with an open heart is to live intimately with all that is life. It is to experience life through our felt experience to not be ruled by what our minds project from our past, those disappointments and fears that have been built over a life time. To live with an unarmoured heart is about connecting with all that is there. Zen Buddhism talks about intimacy with 10,000 things, meaning intimacy with all things, all phenomena, that nothing is left out.

I have discovered that I am living openheartedly when I am not at war with life, when I am not arguing with reality and not avoiding intimacy, especially with my own thoughts and feelings. I can find myself arguing with reality at times, I suppose some would call this living in denial, but thankfully by living faithfully I once again see the truth and let loose the prison of my own skin and move onto a newer and fresher reality, my heart opens up and I experience a new reality. I do not remain armoured or frozen for very long. Faith sets me free once again. I shed another layer of skin.

In “The Exquisite Risk: Daring To Live An Authentic Life” Mark Nepo talks about daring to live your whole unique self, to sing your authentic true song, and to be you unforgivingly. The key is to dare to slow down and to really feel life rather than merely manage it. Nepo encourages us to become quiet enough and open enough to listen to what truly matters; he encourages us to listen intimately to our own hearts, our loved ones, the wonders of nature; he encourages us to live with nothing held back. He shares his own journey including a battle with cancer which he overcame and which helped him understand how only by daring to embrace all that life has to offer can we come to a deeper appreciation of its meaning and beauty. The beauty of Nepo’s work is that he makes the personal universal. He speaks in a way that anyone can relate to, if they would only find the courage to open their own hearts.

A beautiful example of this is when he tells of a dear old friend who slowly loses her hearing. I can relate to this, mine is not what it once was. Due to this she moved beyond merely surface listening and instead listens below, she goes on a journey under the skin. He tells how one day as she grew “tired of straining so hard for all the words, (she) began to listen to eyes, bodies, to gestures, to the face behind the face.” She discovered the warmth, the deep love coming from within the other. Circumstances had forced her to change how she related to people and in so doing she discovered new and beautiful ways to relate and connect to others. Her disability had not decreased the experience of her life, instead through listening with the ear of her heart she had discovered new and beautiful things. She had shed off the skin she had been imprisoned it.

Nepo does not suggest that we have to suffer in order to draw out these beautiful gifts of the heart that are within all of us, although it seems that for most of us this is the case. It is often suffering that finally humbles us enough to open up and transcend the limits of what we think we know. The key he suggests is in self-education. Since the word “educate” means to draw out to call forth what is already present within us (if only schools and places of education would learn this). In so doing we will discover the world within us and ourselves within the world. This requires us to listen to all that the world has to say and not just the thoughts going round and round in our own little worlds. It requires us to shed the skin that we are imprisoned in, to let down the armour plating to learn to live with an un-defended heart.

The key is to become intimately aware that all of us have a unique purpose for being here, this is the “exquisite risk” that Nepo is describing. It is to become willing to be fully alive, open, available to live authentically alive with an undefended heart.

Nepo speaks powerfully to me, to my condition. The spiritual life is indeed a journey under the skin, beneath the surface. This takes courage to go beyond the limits of material life. It takes courage to truly engage in the exquisite risk, to live the authentic life, to join in the courageous conversation. I invite you to come and join with me on this journey under the skin, to lose the skin that you’re imprisoned in. Let us take together the exquisite risk.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Time and the Theory of Wellativity

I have ministered to the two congregations I serve for seven years now. I began on 1st of August 2010,  it seems like only yesterday and yet at the same time a life time ago. So much has happened during this time. It has affected me deeply, I trust it has done so with the folk and the communities I serve. I have certainly experienced some deep moments in our time together, what I like to call “thick time”.

Yes we have been together for some seven years now, it has been a wonderful time, a true blessing. As I look back at those seven years I feel I would like to mark this time. I feel I would like to honour all we have shared together, I hope it has added as much depth and value to their lives as it has to mine. I trust it has in some ways expanded their imaginations and fed their spirits and enabled them to give more of themselves to life.

Time is a funny thing. Time can stop and time can fly by. The passing of time brings with it the experience of ageing, if we are offered that privilege, but that same passing of time can also rejuvenate, if we spend it wisely. We can kill time, but in so doing we do not damage it, only ourselves. We can spend time until it runs out, but we can also invest in it, spend it wisely, and in so doing receive a rich dividends.

One thing we humans do, whether religious or secular, is mark the passing of time. We say “It’s time for this and it’s time for that.” In so doing we mark a certain day and in so doing we separate what has been and what is yet to come. So this week I marked seven years of journeying together with the people I serve, remembering that journey is from the French word “Jounier” which meant your daily travel, your daily task. Well we’ve spent just over seven times 365 individual daily journeys together, in our fellowship love. This week we marked the day and separated what has been and what is yet to come.

We acknowledge the passing of time by marking it. We have always done so. Our ancient ancestors looked into the night sky and observed that the celestial events above them kept on repeating themselves, but not in exactly the same way, but at varying intervals, that today we call a day, or a month, or a year, and so on. Such time is a measured period that extends from one event until it is repeated again. This is linear time, the ancient Greeks called it “Chronos”.

We place such a high value on this kind time because we are given a limited supply of it. We cannot earn more of this kind of time. We mark it off and we continue to mark off such time to keep track of its passing. Each morning, as the sun rises, we begin our daily journey, we begin a period of time called a day. The moon moves through a "moonth" or monthly cycle which lasts twenty nine and a half days. It’s the same with the passing of the spring equinox, which follow a cycle of what we call a year, or actually 365 and a quarter days, which is why we have a leap year every fourth year.

There is though another form of time, other than chronos, that we all experience, a time without measure. Such time is called eternity. Now the ancients believed that this is the time that God inhabits. As Peter wrote in his third letter “A thousand years is as a day to God and one day is as a thousand years.“ The Greeks called such time Kairos”. Such time cannot be measured in a linear sense and thus we often miss it’s value.

Kairos time is not limited, through it we can indeed alter how we live out our Chronos time. We cannot lengthen such time but we can deepen or thicken the experience of this time. Kairos time is qualitative. It is measured by the depth of the moment and not the length, how many seconds it lasts. It’s what Blake described as infinity in an hour. In such moments it feels like the whole world takes a breath; in such moments our whole lives can change and yet in terms of measured “chronos” time it lasted no longer than any other second.

It brings to my mind that wonderful poem by Wendell Berry when he describes the journey (the daily task) or more accurately the spiritual journey which is one of depth rather than distance. This is Kairos time which last no longer but is experienced in a much “thicker” sense. He wrote:

"A Spiritual Journey"

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

by Wendell Berry

You cannot lengthen time, we are finite creatures we humans. This is what makes our lives so precious, so valuable, so meaningful if we would but learn to deepen our time and thicken our experiences. But how do we do this? Well in many ways this is what I try to do each Sunday and in my other activities with the people I serve, I try to guide them into ways in which they can live their lives in deeper and more fulfilling ways.

How do we do this with regards to time? Well the following wonderful piece of wisdom by Marney K Makrodakis explores one way in which this could be achieved. In “The Theory of Wellativity” she writes:

"Since time is relative, and is relative on so many levels, why not consciously control it, by adjusting our inner relativity? Time is changeable and is not an absolute thing, and we can use this to inspiring advantage. After all, time wasn't even standardized until 1884, and obviously life on the planet was able to carry on just fine before then.

"Einstein's theory of relativity is popularly known through the equation E = mc2. In actuality, this equation represents just a portion of the theory of special relativity, basically setting the stage to state that there is equivalence between mass and energy.

"I propose a Theory of Wellativity that looks like this:

F = T + I2

which means:
Fulfillment = Time + Imagination2

"To summarize the equation: to increase wellness in your life, take Time and add to it lots of Imagination, and then you get Fulfillment.

"How does imagination play a role in leading us to fulfillment? Imagination is a powerful conduit for change. Applying the dazzling power of imagination is akin to looking through a kaleidoscope. When we look through a kaleidoscope and focus on a single object, the image magically expands into a dazzling infinity of patterns and colors, instantly changing our capacity to see. And when we connect to the power of imagination, sparkly solutions expand in infinite directions, allowing us to see more. As author and creativity coach Jill Badonsky says, 'The imagination is always on call to transport my spirit to that timeless place of inner peace.'

"The most important changes in my life have, without exception, been primarily fueled by my imagination. Through my imagination, I have attracted an endless number of kaleidoscopic miracles, including bouncing back from mental illness, emerging from suicide attempts, healing physical ailments, attracting my soul mate, designing my ideal work, changing my financial reality, becoming pregnant when doctors said it wasn't possible, losing one hundred pounds, and so much more . . . including completely changing the way I see and experience time.

"As my experience illustrates, imagination is a powerful inner creative act, capable of transforming reality in ways beyond our wildest dreams, including creating the time we need. We can use imagination to control our intention, attention, and awareness; by doing so, we can see the ways in which any given period can be shortened or expanded, deepened or cheapened. Through our imagination, we have an infinite capacity to control our perception of time. Knowing that all time is not equal opens the doorway for us to tap into imagination to make new choices about how we experience time."

...My goodness I relate to this, almost word for word, well except the pregnant bit...

What do you think of this “Theory of Wellativity”. Is imagination a powerful conduit to change? Well it has been in my life. Before any change was possible, before any new beginning was given birth to, I first had to imagine it was possible. Even if others believed it would not be. One of those was becoming a minister, another was over coming physical problems I’ve had all my life, another was being set free from addiction, another was finding and developing a relationship with God, I really didn’t think that was possible and much, much more. I know I’m not alone. It is my imagination that has allowed me to move into unknown territory in my life, to experience the undreamed of realities of existence, to experience what I have come to call “thick time”

We cannot really lengthen the time we have been given, the “Chronos” time. Well at least not beyond a few extra years. Instead of three score and ten, perhaps the norm is four score and ten now. We can though deepen and thicken this time, there is no limit to “Kairos” time. It does not operate in a linear sense, it has no limit, except our own imaginations and we will never reach the limits of these, well not in our life time.

The key it seems is not the length of time we have and or have left but what we do with the time. I invite you to make the most of it. To continue on journeying (joining in the daily task) to sail the sea of life in the ship of love, to expand the limits of what we think we know, to not be held back by what we think we know. Let’s journey on enjoying ever more thickening time.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

No one steps in the same river twice

No one ever steps in the same river twice. This is because the river is not the same, but then neither is the person. This little aphorism from Heraclitus has been drifting in and out of my consciousness as I have been travelling around these last two weeks. I’ve been all over England and North Wales staring out to sea on several occasions as I have enjoyed two weeks leave. One thing I’ve noticed is that even when on leave my homiletic consciousness is still awake. Every interaction I engage in still taps into it. I have noticed once again that my life, that all life, is constantly in flux, is forever changing, that nothing ever stays the same. That life truly is like a river, it is forever flowing.

A couple of Sunday’s back I as invited to the semi-final and final of “Slimming World Man of the Year 2017”. It was a wonderful day meeting the 38 finalist, listening to their stories and awaiting this year’s winner. I was moved deeply by so much of the day as I listened to stories of hope and transformation. I also relived my own experiences of the year before. How different it was standing in this very same river of the event and how much I as a person had also changed. I got to give a speech too, and to hand out the awards. So much has changed this last 12 months, since I was named "Slimming World Man of the Year 2016". I am not the same man I was 12 months ago. I see life and my purpose, my meaning, in new and wonderful ways and yet on the surface things seem mostly to be the same.

I had similar experiences last weekend too as I drove down to Bridport in Dorset to attend the wedding of John Harley and Lizzie Hornby. It was a lovely weekend in a beautiful part of England. As I drove I remembered stepping into this river almost exactly two years ago. I am certainly not the same man I was then, so much has changed. The journey was a long one, the traffic was appalling, as it had been two years before. I travelled then to my nephews wedding in nearby Devon. That weekend was beautiful, but it was also one of suffering and proved to be a breaking point in my life. It was a physical breaking point in the sense that my car broke down. That said it was also a mental, emotional and spiritual breaking point, as from that moment of my car breaking down in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere in dark nameless country lane in Devon, something new began to emerge in me. It was a moment of re-birth, as during the week that followed a new version of myself began to be born. Yes as I drove down and got stuck in traffic on the M5 around Bristol I realised the truth that I was not the same man stepping into the same river. It was a wonderful experience in a beautiful part of the country.

Oh by the way I cannot go anywhere, twice that weekend strangers came up to me and said “You are that slimmer of the year bloke aren’t you.” Funny I know, I didn’t correct them.

Yes no one steps in the same river twice. This is because the river is not the same but then neither is the person. Life is constantly in flux, is forever changing, ever flowing on.

Flux is a central theme of the philosophy of Heraclitus. Heraclitus of Ephesus was a Greek philosopher around the 5th century BC. He was known as the “Weeping Philosopher” and “The Obscure”. He believed that the nature of life is subject to constant change and that it operates within “a unity of opposites”, also stating “the path up and down are one in the same.”

Other aphorism of Heraclitus were on the “Logos”. He stated “The idea that all things come to pass in accordance with this Logos” and “The Logos is common” The Logos was understood to mean the reason, the word, the meaning of everything. For Heraclitus the Logos is eternal and the source of everything, the problem is though that we humans fail to fully understand the Logos because we do not fully engage with it, although he believed that we human beings are capable of doing so because we have an element of the Logos within us. The reason we do not is that we rarely fully examine our true nature.

It is also claimed that he said something like “Eternity is a child playing, playing checkers; the kingdom belongs to a child.” He spoke in riddles, in paradox, but then isn’t this the nature of life? I have certainly found it to be so. That which destroys, is what ultimately creates. In losing ourselves we are found. To know the deepest truths, to the know the kingdom now, is to become almost like a child playing, didn’t Jesus say this in the passage relating to discipleship from Mark’s Gospel? Maybe this is how the meaning (The Logo’s) comes alive in human form in our very human lives.

The beginning of John’s Gospel speaks of this, of the Logos coming into being and dwelling among us and bringing light into the darkness of our lives. How many times have new truths, new meanings, new light come into being in our lives? Everything changes, everything is flux. Perhaps when we are humble enough to be as little children, to have the beginners mind that the Buddhist speak of, we enable new truths, a new word, a new meaning to emerge and in so doing the Logos once more becomes flesh in and amongst us. For this to happen though the old self has to end, to be destroyed, and this often involves suffering, although not despair as it becomes a suffering from which meaning can emerge and come into being.

It’s interesting how this homilectic consciousness comes alive, but while I was driving around thinking of change and meaning the work of Viktor Frankl came into my mind.

In “Man’s Search For Meaning” Frankl gives an account of his struggle to find meaning when held as a prisoner in the Nazi death camps of the second world war. He lost most of his family and friends in the camps and yet he never lost hope in humanity.

Frankl was the founder of what has often been referred to as the “Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” Freud founded the first which was based on the central role of the libido or pleasure principle in human psychology. Alfred Adler founded the second which emphasised the importance of the will to power and the significance of the superiority/inferiority complex in human behaviour, based on ideas formulated by Nietzsche. In contrast to these two schools Frankl’s psychology is based on the will to meaning which he saw as the primary motivating force in human life. He named it “Logotherapy” taken from the Greek term logos, which as stated above means “word”, “reason”, or “meaning”. For Frankl meaning had a transcendent origin.

Frankl saw a spiritual dimension beyond the biological and psychological. He saw the suppression of this spiritual dimension as the root cause of our human malady. Therefore the task of “Logotherapy” was “to remind patients of their unconscious religiousness”; to uncover the spiritual dimensions of their lives; enable them to recover the capacity to choose those values which give our lives worth and meaning.

Now this meaning is of course is different for everyone. As Frankl said himself:

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” He did not suggest that there wasn’t a universal meaning, he was not a true existentialist in this sense. What he suggested was that we ourselves seemed unable to uncover it as individuals, here I believe echoing thoughts of Heraclitus.

Frankl claimed that meaning is discovered through creative and worthwhile activites, by creating something beautiful or doing good – I believe that one of the greatest sadness’s of our age is the fact that the phrase “do-gooder” has become a term of mockery, that it is somehow seen as wrong and suspicious to do good - Meaning can be found through experiencing and sharing in the beauty of art or nature or through loving or ethical encounters with others.

Even in the most horrific and terrifyingly hopeless situations we still have the capacity to choose our attitude towards whatever circumstances we are faced with. It is our response to life’s events that shapes our souls. Remember Frankl developed his theory during the utter despair and horror of the Nazi death camps.

As Frankl himself said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

My life seems to echo these ideas constantly, new meaning has often emerged through the transformative nature of walking faithfully through suffering and the belief that something beautiful and meaningful can emerge once again from the ashes of life.

Two Sunday’s ago just before the Slimming World Man of Year 2017 semi-final and final began I was asked to speak to the thirty eight men present about my experiences. I was honoured to do so, although I did not perhaps give what the Slimming World folk were expecting. Instead I returned to Heraclitus' aphorism “That no one steps in the same river twice” and the idea that everything is constantly in flux and this is where the meaning emerges from, even when brought into being by the fire of suffering. I spoke about how I had changed in the last 12 months, how my understanding of my humanity and life had changed and that I that a new meaning and mission had grown in me. That I and hoped that they would reach other men and other people and help us face up to whatever in life is holding us back, stopping us living the lives that we can live, for ourselves and the greater good of humanity itself. This was my words becoming flesh and my lived life becoming meaningful in new and wonderful ways.

This is the mission for all people I believe. This is how we build the “Kin-dom of Love” right here right now. This is how we transcend whatever suffering we experience in life and not sink into despair. The meaning emerges by giving from our own lives for the good of all. We are all part of the ever changing river of life we each of us have an aspect of eternal love within us.

So let’s keep on stepping into the eternal river of all life.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Aliveness of Things

Last Friday I had the joy of conducting the wedding of two young women who have been attending worship with us for a while. It was a truly beautiful occasion, full of joy and full of love. At the end of the service many of those present thanked me for the service and told me how much they loved it. Some of the comments will live with me for a long time. One in particular I believe will keep me going for quite some time. I had a long and continuing conversation with one of the guests, but it was the first thing that he said that struck powerfully. He said something like “I gave up on religion 50 years ago, but something happened today. This service has awoken something in me. Thank you.” He thanked me, when in reality the thanks are all mine. It is for moments like this that I do this work. It’s why I’m here I believe. It’s why we are all here, to discover the truth that life is more than mere material processes.  We are called, I believe, to help awaken one another to the aliveness of being, to raise one another’s consciousness.

I love the aliveness of things. I feel that the last few years of my life has been all about awakening to this aliveness of things. This kind of universal consciousness at the core of all life, what the western religions might call God. I witness it in all life, I see it in human creativity too, particularly art. I love the aliveness in words, in art, in music or whatever is creative. We experience the works in the moment, whether individually or collectively and yet, especially the great works, are somehow timeless. They possess a consciousness of their own, as their aliveness is not only in the moment they were written or recorded or created, but continuing on and on into eternity. If life has revealed anything to me it has awoken me to the fact that things are much more than merely the sum of their parts, they have a power beyond the mere limits of the material they are formed from and that they grow in power and meaning beyond the limits of the creators imaginations. That aliveness of course was there before the creation grew in the creators imagination; it is vital to remember, of course. all that has occurred before those moments of creation; all the incredible aliveness that allowed them to be created. I love the aliveness of things; I love the aliveness of my mere thoughts and feelings, knowing that they come from something far more than the mere chemical reactions in my brain or even my singular consciousness; I love the aliveness of things they are so much more than the sum of their parts.

It’s not just in great works of human creation that I witness this same aliveness, I see it in the ordinary in the loving interaction, in the small gesture of loving kindness and I see it manifest in the natural world. I see powerfully a simple loving universal consciousness at work in life, it enlivens and empowers me. It gives my life meaning and makes my life worth living, hey even dying, for.

Now there are many who would dispute this truth, I would have done at one time or another and who knows I may do so again in the future. Many suggest that there is no such thing as consciousness, that it is merely a creation of the brain, a stage of the evolutionary process. What do you think? What do you think about consciousness? Is it merely a creation of the functions of the brain?

In philosophical circles consciousness is considered the “Hard Problem” as it seems impossible to solve adequately. The great minds don’t seem to have come up with a satisfactory answer to what exactly it is and or why it exists. In fact many of the great minds seem to fall out about it all the time. I’m sure that many would scoff at my unscientific conclusion about life and yet it doesn’t sound as crazy as some of the great theories of the so called great minds, who have equated we humans with “lumbering robots” and or asked why we are not just zombies or to quote that wonderful short story of science fiction, simply thinking meat. We are more than merely this though, surely we are. Reductionist world views seem to miss what is so clearly in front of its eyes.

The truth is of course that maybe, just maybe we won’t ever come up with a satisfactory answer, to what we call “consciousness”. Maybe one day we will not know the answer to everything. It is possible, I suppose, that one day we will, and it shouldn’t stop us striving for the answers. Our human consciousness after is the very thing that drives us, compels us to do so. Let’s just never forget to do what Mary Oliver suggested, let’s remember to pay attention to beauty of the daisy and all life for that matter. For I believe that same consciousness is at the heart of it all, connecting it all, bringing the aliveness to life.

Now please excuse me if this next bit is hard to follow but I am going to briefly attempt to summarise three schools of thought about consciousness that have emerged in the modern era. The three being “dualism”, “physicalism” and “pansychism”.

“ Cartesian Dualism” dates back to seventeenth century when Rene Descartes identified the problem that has tied the great minds in knots ever since. He realised, that on the one hand, that there was nothing more undeniably obvious than the fact that we are conscious beings, everything else could be an illusion but not this, as he said “I think therefore I am”. That said he suggested that this consciousness seemingly does not obey the usual rules of science of the physical realm, as it can only be observed from within and can’t really be described except from the one who is conscious of it. From this he concluded that the mind therefore must be made from some special kind of none material stuff that are not ruled by the laws of nature and thus bequeathed by God upon humanity, thus raising us above nature in some special way.

“Dualism” began to be questioned particularly by the secular scientific community that took “physicalism” – the idea that only physical things exist – as its primary principle. The problem was though that although it rejected dualism, for many years, it could not come up a convincing alternative to it. Such views concluded that the mind and consciousness are a result of processes of the brain, but no concrete answers beyond that could be unearthed. As a result the topic became virtually taboo and was referred to as “The Hard Question”. This led in 1989 to Stuart Sutherland writing in the “International Dictionary of Psychology” that with regard to consciousness “it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

There have been developments since, most notably by Francis Crick and others who have suggested that certain neurons firing at particular frequencies are the cause of inner awareness. And there seems little doubt that there is a physical aspect to it, as awareness of who or what we are is affected by the workings of the brain. Brain injury and degenerative disease such as forms of dementia seem to prove this and certainly impact on our perception of consciousness. That said just merely putting consciousness of ourselves and life itself down to impulses within the brain seems wholly inadequate an answer to me. I’m with Sutherland on this one. There is also the problem of free will and the potential to change. It seems that “physicalism” on the whole denies this possibility, claiming we are merely subject to our biological impulses.

In more recent times another theory has developed, which is linked to some more ancient knowledge. The theory has become known as “panpsychism”, which suggest that everything in the universe might be conscious, or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations. It suggest that consciousness is not merely limited to humans thus rejecting dualism and humanities privileged position.

“Pansychism” does not require a belief in some special mind substance that resides in the brain, nor does it require the suspension in the belief of the laws of physics. Meanwhile nor does it require us deny the reality of our own experiences and the strange acceptance that consciousness doesn’t exist, when it’s so obvious that it does. On the contrary, “panpsychism” suggests that consciousness is everywhere, life it is throbbing with it. It suggests in fact that consciousness is the energy of life.

“Pansychism suggest that there is a connectiveness to everything and that everything affects everything else. It also suggests that consciousness does not actually require a brain at all, that it exists beyond the brain. I would suggest from this that actually the function of the brain is not to create consciousness but to make sense of it and interpret and perhaps communicate this consciousness. Isn’t this what we are doing when we are sharing our own personal experiences of life? Isn’t this what words are for? Isn’t this what creative expression is for? And when we do so do we not somehow increase the experience for ourselves and others and bring about change?

Now you may well ask what is this guy on? And what has this got to do with his work? What’s this got to do with what happened at the wedding? What has it got to with the power of great works of art and loving action etc? Well I believe everything. As I often say I believe everything matters, every thought, every word, every deed, every interaction is interconnected and impacts on everything else. It seems to me that consciousness is everywhere and that life is throbbing with it. The purpose of religion and spirituality is to awaken us to this. If we do we may just begin to live by the “Golden Rule of Compassion” and do unto others as we would have them do to us. How could we not as we are all connected by the same consciousness, we have the same blood flowing through us and we have the same spirit animating us. We are all a part of the aliveness of life. So as we awaken to this consciousness we begin to act on it and incarnate this aliveness in our lives.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Inspire Wholeheartedness

Last Saturday I was invited, as a guest of honour, to present an award at the “Slimming World Oscars” at the Birmingham International Conference Centre (ICC). It was a lavish occasion celebrating the work of Slimming World consultants and other employees. It was a wonderful night celebrating love, community and transformation. Slimming World inspires, empowers and encourages people to live happy and healthy lives, at its core is community and love. They truly encourage, because they bring the heart alive. They bring to life heart and spirit because they inspire and encourage. So it was wonderful to celebrate those who work so hard to make the communities possible. I had a ball.

It was a day of contrast though, because I also bore witness to another group of people, who were also gathered in the centre of Birmingham, they though were not encouraging and inspiring love, quite the opposite, they were only inspiring hate. I had arrived early and as a result decided to walk down to the nearby library, as it is such a beautiful and fascinating building. As I arrived I heard what sounded like a football crowed. Then I saw them. It was obviously a far right group waving their flags and shouting their hatred. There must have been about 150 of them from all around the country and I heard later from other parts of Europe. I observed their drunken aggression, intoxicated by alcohol and hatred of life. I asked the police officers present and some of the photographers and others present who they were. They were “Britain’s First”. I watched, I bore witness in silence, as they sang their songs of intimidation and I observed their faces. I remember feeling sickened by the sight of young children, even babies in prams among the crowd. I wondered what would happen to those children being brought up in such a way. I thought about much of the hatred and the violence we have witnessed these last 12 months from haters of life and fanatics and I thought about the children who they indoctrinate and inspire or maybe it’s more accurate to say dispirit and discourage, destroy loving spirit and heart. I thought about the people blown up in Manchester attending a concert, the people in London just enjoying a night out, the people breaking fast as a part of Ramadan outside Finsbury Park mosque. I thought about Jo Cox murdered by a fanatic who cried out “Britains First” when he murdered her. That weekend she and her message of unity and love was being celebrated throughout the country, her children had unveiled a plaque in Parliament with her simple message “There is more that unites us than divides us”. A message of love and community which I know will overpower those who hate life. I remembered that despite the real suffering and pain spread by those who have been overcome by hate throughout our world. I also remembered that there are far more encourages of love and inspirers of spirit in this world, it’s just that they tend to be quieter and not aggressive. I thought about this as I enjoyed the wonderful joy filled evening in Birmingham and as I observed the people enjoying music at Glastonbury and those remembering Jo Cox up and down the land. I also observed this carefully in the ordinary interactions with people and the loving conversations I have had this week. They have lifted my spirit and filled my heart. I found it deeply encouraging and inspiring. I will not become discouraged and or dispirited by those who have lost the love for life.

How do we encourage one another how do we inspire one another in these challenging times? How do we fill our children’s hearts with love and their spirits with faith in love and life? Well I believe it begins by allowing them to witness what it is that makes us come alive. Howard Thurman said  “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and do it. For what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
That is so true. This is what the world needs more than anything, people who come alive, this is how we inspire and thus encourage, by our simple example. This is what I love about the conversations that I have with people. Yes they often tell me about their pain, but also their joy. I am constantly amazed by the conversations I have with people. Even complete strangers tell me amazing things. I don’t ask them to, they just seem to open up to me and tell me beautiful love filled things about their passions and joys, it happened all last weekend. It blew my heart open and I felt that spirit in me coming alive. I see and witness so many people in my life who dedicate themselves to helping others to find what is already within them, I find it beautifully inspiring.

It brought to mind a rather beautiful mantra I once heard. It goes by the title “It’s time somebody told you”:

“It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.”

I remember singing a version of these words in a “Singing Meditation”. I wonder how many of us really believe such words, how we can resist these feelings. Certainly the haters and destroyers of life do not. The truth is that we all need this kind of love and encouragement. I know I do from time to time. I remember a while ago, after attending an old friends 40th birthday party, another old mutual friend saying to me, after we had had another one of those fascinating conversations I love to experience, I remember them saying “Keep up the good work”. I had a similar conversation at the Slimming World Oscars. I got talking to man, he did most of the talking, I found out he was a recently retired senior police officer and he talked about how he gets lit up by the passion in others, he said he wasn’t religious himself but felt it was vital the work that religious communities do and as I left he too said “Keep up the good work” This kind of encouragement is important, it fills mt heart and it enlivened my spirit.

I strongly believe that the purpose of free religious communities is to encourage and inspire one another and the world in which we live. To encourage and inspire is to fill one another’s hearts and enliven one another’s spirits and bring that alive in those we meet and to somehow bring healing to a world in which there are those who want to tear it apart. It is the task pf free religious communities to be a part of the healing and the not the destruction of the world.
These last few days I have spent some time thinking of those who have filled my heart and enlivened my spirit.
Who are the people who have inspired you? Who planted the seeds of love or who nurtured those seeds and enabled them to grow and flower? Who have been your inspirations in your lives? Who are the people who have encouraged you to come alive?
The truth is that we all inspire or dispirit one another, we all encourage or discourage one another. No one lives a neutral life.
But what does it mean to be an inspiration? You may well ask. Well the word inspiration is an interesting one, as so many are. We have, as is our way,  reduced its meaning in power. It’s another one of those words that we have attempted to tame. Why do we always reduce the meaning of things in our attempt to gain control of them? Why don't we attempt to raise ourselves up to them instead. 

Today inspiration means someone or something that gives you an idea for doing something, but originally it meant “immediate influence of God or a god”. It comes from the old French word “inspiriacion” meaning “inhaling in or breathing in from the Latin “inspirare” meaning to blow into or breath upon so as to excite or inflame. This is the meaning in the following verse from Genesis Chapter 2 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It really meant to infuse or animate to affect to rouse to guide to put life into the human soul. It meant something much more profoundly powerful in the past that it does today.
That said I believe that we can and do inspire in this way and in so doing we can bring the kingdom to life in our own hearts and lives. We can ignite that divine spark.
I believe that this is what Albert Schweitzer meant when he said:
“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”
Those who rekindle the light are the inspirers amongst us.
I strongly believe that it is our task, our religious imperative, to enliven the spirit within us, to truly come alive, our world needs it. And as we do to breath out that loving spirit and encourage love within one another.
It is our religious task to both breath in and breath out inspiration, to bring to life that seed of love at the core of our being. To shine as we are meant to shine and to not be afraid to be all that you are meant to be. For as Thurman said, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And how do we do this? Well by simply living the life we love, by simply doing so we inspire those we meet to do the same and all life benefits and in so doing we might just bring the kingdom alive, right here right now. Actually there is no might about it we do bring the kin-dom of love alive within us and in so doing we shine a little bit of light on all those we share our lives with. In so doing we inspire and we encourage others to bring love and life alive.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Love Service and Radical Amazement: Walking your Path with Joy

“Faith” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement, to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.

Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness. Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. We can never sneer at the stars, mock the dawn, or scoff at the totality of being.

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art."

~Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
(January 11, 1907 – December 23, 1972)

“Help us fulfil what lies within the circle of our lives – each day we ask no more, no less. Untangle the knots within, so we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to others…Free us to walk your path with joy!” by Neil Douglas-Klotz – “Prayers of the Cosmos”

Towards the end of August I have the honour of serving as “Minister of the Week” at “Hucklow Summer School”. The theme for this year is “‘Walk Your Path with Joy’- Finding Hope & Resisting Despair in Turbulent Times”. I will be serving those present and helping them spiritually, mentally and emotionally through what will be a deeply challenging week. It is not a holiday, I am there to serve, to minister to all present.

I am often amused by people’s responses to what I do as a vocation. I’m even more amused by what they call me. A couple whose wedding I recently conducted called me Father and others assume I am a vicar. I have heard of someone else calling me Pastor Dan. I’m sure I’m called many other things too, which I won’t repeat. Now while my title is reverend I am a minister and this is an entirely appropriate name for what I do. To minister literally means to serve and I believe this is what I do, I serve people, I serve life and I serve God. I am a minister and to minister is to serve. I often wonder when I listen to political leaders if they are truly aware of this, they are there purely to serve “we the people” and not the other way round. The Prime Minister ought to see themself as the number one servant in the land. Sadly power can go to anyone’s head.

Now some say I am an unorthodox minister. I remember a congregant once saying that “I was like no minister she had ever met before.” I remember Rev Bill Darlison’s response to this comment. He quipped “Danny you are unlike any minister that anyone has ever met before.”

So it appears true that I am an unorthodox minister and yet to me I simply do my best to fulfil my role, to simply serve life live through love. To show others the way of love and service and hope in the midst of suffering. I cannot take away anybody’s suffering, but I can walk with them and by doing so meaning emerges and despair is dispelled.

To quote Micah (Ch8 v 6)

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Will you come and walk with me?

So how do we find hope and resist despair in the turbulent times. This is most definitely a pertinent question for everyone right now, we seem to be in midst of incredibly turbulent times. As a nation we are facing the most challenging period in my memory. There are many forces at work that seem to want to divide us. Our political class are at war and economic troubles on the increase, there is violence on the streets from haters of life and extremists of many kinds. Every day the news is filled with chaos and loss of life. Now I am not naive, this is not new. This has been happening all over the world throughout my lifetime, it’s just I’ve never seen it to this extent in this country. It is making us look at life wholly, as of course we should always do so. It is opening our senses to everything and this is painful. It should be painful. If it didn’t hurt then there would be something deeply wrong with us. Hell is indifference.

It is easy to feel powerless against this tide of suffering. How do we keep our heads up and our eyes and hearts open to one another and life, how do we find Hope in the midst of all of this? How do we transcend despair?

Well I believe it begins with what I have already witnessed. It begins in and through service. Rabindranath Tagore said “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” It begins by baring witness to the love and service and the coming together I have witnessed on the same tv screens and also very close at hand as I have seen ordinary people helping, holding and inspiring one another. People walking together in their suffering, in love. I see it in the little things as well as the bigger things. It doesn’t take away the suffering but it brings to life the love present in each of us, a power that will always overcome the powers that divide us. To quote Jo Cox “There is more that unites us than divides us.” or in the words of Harry Stack Sullivan “ We are all much more simply human than otherwise, be we happy and successful, contented and detached, miserable and mentally disordered, or whatever.” We all live with the same struggles, we are all born from the same earth, live under the same sun and I believe have the same spirit running through us all.

As we serve others meaning emerges and we discover our own true hearts. It does not end the suffering but it creates Hope and meaning from the suffering and in so doing we build a legacy of the heart for those who follow. As we serve others we develop our own hearts and souls, in serving others we are working on ourselves, on our own souls; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts and minds and souls. Service is soul work, it is the heart in action and it brings us fully to life. In so doing we transcend the very real suffering that is an aspect of all life; in so doing we transcend despair.

Through faith in life itself, by giving ourselves fully to life, we know joy. Joy is an attribute of a full, rich and deeply meaningful life. It is radically different to fun, pleasure and happiness, these are merely emotional qualities. Joy is a spiritual quality that is present within us, despite life’s circumstances. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When I know joy I am at one with life and with myself. Through love and service we can begin to once again awaken to the amazement of life and know joy.

Joy for life itself can be known even during life’s troubles and difficulties. The people Jesus spoke to 2,000 years ago were not living easy and comfortable lives. Those people knew about conflict, oppression, tragedy and almost constant grief. He told them that all that was wonderful, life-giving, life affirming, all that is meaningful was theirs. He said to them “Enter into my kingdom with joy.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”

The kingdom he spoke of can be with us right here right now, we can know and experience the commonwealth of love right here, right now. And how can we know it? Well by fulfilling the commandment to love one another. Love though is not some mushy sentiment, it is an act, it is a way of being. The commonwealth of love comes into being by giving ourselves fully to life, to one another; through giving ourselves fully to life and to one another we truly realise the joy of living. In so doing we will be awakened to the true amazement of what it means to actually be alive.

Tagore said: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

This is the purpose of the religious life to awaken joy through service to and for one another. Joy is about connection, intimate connection. When we give of ourselves to others and to life we know the joy that is truly living. That said when we live only for ourselves and live dis-connected from life, we quickly become joyless once again, we lose faith in God given life, our experience of life becomes dulled and meaningless.

Some people say “everything happens for a reason”, in so doing suggesting it is all part of God’s plan. I have never believed this and believe it simply opens the great theodicy question “How can an all-powerful and all loving God allow suffering? A question that comes into my consciousness constantly as a minister of religion.

My truth is that I do not believe that everything in life is pre-ordained or pre-determined, the future is unwritten. I do believe in the Lure of Divine Love, that all life is given free will and it is our task to bring love alive in life and to encourage others to do the same through our example, in this sense we are not powerless against the tide of despair. It is our responsibility to become beacons of hope to others in their suffering, to become the light of the world. Hope rises from the ashes of suffering and meaning emerges through our living and breathing. This is why everything matters, every thought, every breath, every feeling, every action, and every word. This is also one way in which joy can be found in life, through love and service for others, despite the very real turbulence all around us. I believe in life I am constantly in awe and amazement at it, despite the very real suffering present. I live with my eyes, with all my senses including the sixth sense fully open. It is the only way I know how to live fully alive.

Some may ask how and why can I believe this? My simple answer to this is “This is what my 45 years of living breathing and waking up has taught me.” I believe in life, it constantly amazes me.

Life amazes me, constantly. Despite all the darkness and destruction that is present, that can overwhelm it all, life and love always seems to find a way through. Like that little shoot that finds its way back to life every spring time, finding its way through all the obstacles in its way, insisting on reaching out beyond and finding life. That amazes me; I find that utterly amazing.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that:

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Through living in love and service I am awakened to the amazement of life. My senses are fully awake. But what is amazement you may well ask? What is radical amazement?

“Radical Amazement” captures those moments, those deeply human moments when we find ourselves intensely connected to the mystery and the majesty of existence. It is found not so much in the big moments, when we mark life’s achievements, it is more about what Heschell himself describes as “the common and the simple” those small things that reveal “the infinite significance” of existence. In many ways “radical amazement” is about paying attention and looking deeply at the routine moments of our lives and experiencing just how incredible they are. There are parallels to mindfulness here, but I think there is more to it than that, there is a sense of eye popping awe and wonder in looking through radically amazed eyes. It’s about seeing the miracle in existence. How many of us truly recognise and acknowledge just how amazing it is that we exist at all?

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into the familiar with what Rumi called “fresh eyes”, it’s about recognising that even the most routine moments are in actual fact outrageous. Just think about our existence here on this spinning planet rushing through a universe some 13 billion years old, or so they tell us. We are formed from stardust and yet made from flesh that are homes to entire eco-systems and billions of cells that are neatly balanced so as to allows us to exist, that are constantly altering and changing and adjusting to all that we experience. We who are made from stardust are more than merely stardust though, we are made up of complex thoughts, emotions and experiences and there is a spirit within each of us. We are more than merely our biology; we are more than merely thinking meat. It is amazing and marvellous to truly be who we are.

We need to look at all life with eyes wide open, through “fresh eyes”, something that can be hard to do when turbulence strikes, when we experience and witness suffering, but we must if we are to live in the full amazement of existence. When we see life through such eyes all this that we are made from reacts in positive and powerful ways, something we can feel with real intensity at times. I know that there are times when our whole make up responds to the whole of the make-up of the universe and that this occurs every time that we see the miracle in existence, in a new way. This blows me away. It is amazing that we exist at all; it’s amazing that everything came from the same nothing.

Bang…and here we are in a fabulous place…what are you gunna do here…in this sacred place, in this sacred time, in these are sacred bodies, in these our sacred lives…

“Radical Amazement” is about looking into life with truly open eyes, it is an ethical act and an intentional decision, it is the ultimate spiritual practise and as such it is one that involves great risk. This is because it opens us up to all that is, as it truly is. This requires courage, because to see the beauty also requires us to see the horror too. This may seem too awful for some, but it is the awe that accompanies vulnerability that is required to be awakened to radical amazement.

To see the world with awakened eyes, fresh eyes, open eyes is look into life in “Radical Amazement”. It is life as it truly is in its awe filled beauty. It is to truly let life in and to fill us to the brim.

It seems to me that “Radical Amazement” is how to live and breathe our human spirituality. At its essence spirituality is about being amazed it is about cultivating greater openness and deeper awareness of the beauty, blessing and mystery of life.

Suffering is an aspect of living, it cannot be escaped. Everybody suffers. Life itself though is not suffering, love and joy are also an aspect of life too. How do we experience love and joy? Well it’s quite simple really. It comes through living with all our senses wide open. It begins by simply opening our eyes and our arms. It begins in love and service. It begins by simply walking humbly with one another and humbly giving thanks that we even exist at all. This is what it means to live in and through Hope and it is this that will lift us from despair despite the very real suffering in life. It begins by simply looking into the eyes of our neighbour and recognising the amazing thing that is their existence and continues as we look at the world in which we live and by simply giving thanks for life, for it truly is amazing that life exists at all.

May love guides us in the weeks ahead, may it lead us to Hope and away from Despair in spite of the very real suffering present in life.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Hubris & Feet of Clay: A Father's Day Reflection

A few months ago I visited my aunty Catherine for the day. I try to visit her regularly, but not as often as I would like. She and her son Edward are really the only surviving members of my dad’s side of the family, that part of my ancestry. We went for a walk around Morley near Leeds, where she lives, the town where I was born. They actually live in Bruntcliffe which is the hill between Batley where my mother was from and Morley where my dad’s butchers shop was. Towards the end of the walk we went to the cemetery to visit the family grave, where my granddad and grandma, her parents and my dad, her brother, are buried. I read the names and I observed the ages they were when they died. As I looked at my dad’s age something shocking dawned on me. My dad was only 47 years old when he died. I turned to my auntie Catherine in a state of shock and said to her “I can’t quite believe it, my dad was only two years older than am when he died, the same age that my brother is now. Her response was interesting she said something like “No way Danny, he seemed like an old man, not like you.” In many ways he was, he had lived his life and I suspect that he was tired, he had run out of life.

My father was a complex man, certainly not the most responsible. My relationship with him was not the best it could have been, although better than my siblings. He was a charismatic man and was certainly someone you would remember being in the company of, as was evidence by his funeral. That said he could be a selfish man and someone who I suspect never knew who he really was himself. He never found peace within himself and could be a completely different person with whoever he met. One thing I do know is that he loved me. That said one thing I have known in my life is that most people I have known have loved me, even those who have hurt me deeply. My step father, my mother’s second husband, was another complex man and an abusive one too, I lived in utter terror of him as I grew up. Even so despite all this he did love me and all his children in his own way. Again though he was and is a deeply selfish man. He has fathered many children and I will hold all of them in my heart today, as they think of their father. Father's day can be a difficult one for so many people, it will bring up a mixture of emotions and ones that at not always recognised. This needs to be acknowledged and not ignored.

I have known many other role models throughout my life. I think as a younger man I constantly sought them out. All of them have been flawed individuals and yet I have known a certain amount of care from them too. Of all of them, perhaps the one I have always felt a deep love and affection for and from was my granddad who died a couple of years ago. I had a deep love for my other granddad too, it’s just that I didn’t see him after the age of 11 except just before he died. I never saw the flaws in my mum’s dad though, although I know he had many. I don’t ever recall him showing anything but deep love towards me. I will never forget visiting him just a few days before he died, in the hospice, and my heart breaking as I saw him lying there. I also remember pulling myself together as he awoke as I didn’t want him to see me upset. Not because I thought this was a sign of weakness, but because I knew how much it would hurt him to see me hurting. The last thing in the world I ever want to do was hurt him and I believe he me.

Growing up I know I didn’t have the best paternal role models. I know this ever more clearly these days as I have spent time with other families in my role as a minister. I am at peace with this today. I blame no one for any troubles in my life and have truly reconciled myself with my past. I take full responsibility today. That said I recognise that many people struggle with their relationships with the paternal figures in their life.

The problem comes I believe from our expectations of people. We often seen our paternal figures as either God like or monsters, not human beings, as flawed as any of us. The truth is we all have “feet of clay” none of us is perfect. Last Sunday I was extolling the virtues of Gandhi. Gandhi was often considered “The Father of India” and yet much has been written about the flawed aspects of his make-up particularly as the father of his own children. Like every one of us, he had “feet of clay.”

The phrase “Feet of clay” comes from the second chapter of the “Book of Daniel” in the "Jewish Scriptures" the “Old Testament.” The book described the people of Israel being exiled to Babylon for worshipping false Gods. The king of Babylon is troubled by a recurrent dream that none of his wise men can interpret. Now just before the king executes the wise men for their failure, one of the exiles from Judah, Daniel, offers to interpret the king’s dream. He begins by describing the king's dream:

“31 ‘You were looking, O king, and lo! there was a great statue. This statue was huge, its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. 32 The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all broken in pieces and became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

Daniel then continues and interprets the dream. He explains that the rock that struck the statue represented the one true God and that although the king was represented by the gold head of the statue, if he didn’t base his life and his kingdom on the one true God, it would inevitably be shattered and swept away. It is here that the phrase “feet of clay” comes from.

Today we use the phrase in situations where someone or something appears be invincible but, in fact, is actually based on fragile feet of clay. Something that all who believe that they are powerful need to take note of. It is vital to remember that we are all finite, no one is perfect and we are all fallible. We all have “feet of clay.” It is a warning against “Hubris” that so many of the powerful can become consumed by.

Our expectations of others can be too high at times. By the way I’m not just speaking of our father’s or mother’s we can have it of siblings and other family members, of friends and lovers. We can also have the same expectation of public figures, especially the leaders and politicians of the world. The truth is they most certainly have feet of clay and we should never put them on pedestals. This by the way is not excusing anything, we should most certainly hold them accountable. We should treat them as we would anybody else.

Ever since a week last Thursday’s surprise General Election result I have heard my favourite word used repeatedly. The word is “Hubris”. Our Prime Minister Teresa May has been accused of it in calling an early election in the expectation of a result that would strengthen her position. This backfired badly and has left her with less power. It truly is an example of “Hubris”.

The criticism has continued since, following Mrs May's response to the loss of several dozen lives in the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower. One of several horrific events that have happened in recent weeks in Britain, that has the whole nation in a state of numbing shock and despair and looking for leadership that is lacking from our Prime Minister.

Hubris is the Ancient Greek word for over stretching ourselves; it translates as arrogance or overwhelming pride. The ancient Greeks saw Hubris as the very root of tragedy. Their tragic dramas, played out at their religious festivals centred on human beings, often rulers who forgot their human limitations. In these tragedies the audiences were reminded of the dangers of acting like immortals or Gods. They taught the value of knowing themselves, who they really are and to know what it is to be truly human.

Perhaps those that rule our world, our leaders, the financiers and even the celebrities who many of us lookup to in awe in the same way that the ancient Greeks looked at their God’s should take heed of these stories. The Empires do eventually fall, no matter how powerful they believe they are.

Hubris is an insidious beast. We often fail to see it in ourselves. Because Hubris is so well hidden in ourselves it can have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us. Why you may well ask? Well because it is neatly packaged as the virtue of truthfulness and righteousness.

Fortunately there exists a healthy antidote to hubris, humility!

Humility may well be humanities greatest virtue. It is essentially about accepting our human limitations and of course the limitations of others. By doing so we become teachable, we learn from others, which leads not only to us improving our own lives but the world that we inhabit but do not own; which in turn leads us to nurture and develop healthy relationships with other people. By recognising that we are not, nor do we speak for God we will open ourselves up to voice of transcendence as it speaks to us in life. In doing so we will be honouring life itself as sacred, which will hopefully lead to us taking care of what is our responsibility; our own lives mind, body and soul, our families, our homes, our friendships, our communities, our planet.

Hubris can be the most inhibiting and potential dangerous delusion a human being can suffer from. In the end it actually stops us living the best life we can. Humility on the other end helps us to see the truth about ourselves and others “Warts and all and beauty spots too”. From here we can honestly improve our own lives and those who we share this spinning planet with. It achieves more than that though. It draws us closer together not only to one another but to this amazing universe that we play a small but vital role in. The dangers stem from losing sight of this and believing that this universe and rest of humanity revolves around us and is there to do our bidding.

We all have “feet of clay”, even those we exalt and look up to; the ones we put on pedestals, including our parents, especially our fathers. We all have our flaws, we all walk the line between creation and destruction in our daily living. We all have cracks in us, to quote Leonard Cohen, “that’s how the light gets in.” Gandhi who I spoke of last week, considered “The Father of India” had a difficult relationship with his own children. It’s the same with every figure that we hold up as examples to us. They all have and had “feet of clay”.

The heroes of mythology were not perfect. The ancient Greek heroes all had flaws, even their Gods. It’s the same with the characters found in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet these very same figures are held up to us as models of faithfulness and bravery. The truth is that perfection has nothing to do with greatness, we are all more human than otherwise, we all have “feet of clay.”

These days I tend to take a more realistic view of both myself and the others in my life. This does not mean I have lost any of my idealism as I know that we can all do better. As I wrote in last weeks "blogspot" we can all aim higher than we ever imagined, in the assurance we will always fall short of the mark. For this reason we must aim higher than our imaginations can even begin to envision. In so doing we will become the best version of ourselves.

We must be careful of the dangers of hubris though, we need to always have our feet on the ground, our “feet of clay”. While always remembering that we all have “feet of clay”, particularly those we exalt, and those we hold up.

As I look back at the father figures in my life, even those I feel let down by I do so with loving and accepting eyes. I see clearly that they had “feet of clay”; I see clearly that they were as human as I am and I can certainly see the love that they had within them. A love that they had for me and others in their own cracked and broken ways. I also see clearly my own “feet of clay” and I intend to keep aiming high while also being wary of falling for the dangers of Hubris.

On this day that honours fathers let us do so honestly and compassionately. Let’s remember that we are all far more human than otherwise, that we all have “feet of clay”. Let us also remember the imperfect love that we have all experienced from the father figures in our lives and the imperfect love we have shown to those who have looked to us and who we have at times let down. Let us also aim higher, in the expectation that we will always fall short of the mark.

Let’s remember that we all have “feet of clay” and whatever love we give and receive will never be perfect but if we aim high and give as much as we possibly can it may well be more than we could ever imagine as possible.