Tuesday, 31 May 2011


I have recently read a couple of friends and colleagues Blogs. In them they have described how part of theology has been influenced by music and fiction etc...it got me thinking...

Of course like everyone I am influenced by many things, including many forms of artistic expression. That said I am not sure if these are the primary influences on my theology. For me the most important influence is personal experience. For most of my life I was an atheistically inclined agnostic. This is no longer the case, due to some experiences I had a few years ago and others that I have continued to have since. For me my personal theology is really only about my attempts to make sense of these experiences. Today I accept that I probably never will. I sought out religiously minded folk in an attempt to make sense of what had happened to me and now look where this has led...Lol!

Below is an attempt at creative writing from a couple of years ago. It is not what literally happened to me. It is mythical and speaks powerfully of the experiences I had and how they changed my response to life.

10th October 2003
South Manchester

Dear God,

                        I am writing to you, because I've nowhere else to turn.  I feel as desperate as Princess Leah did, at the beginning of Star Wars, when she sent the message to the old Jedi master "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, your my only hope". Well God you seem to be my last hope. I've tried everything and I just feel floored. I've run out of every idea. I've got no where else to turn. So as an act of desperation, I thought I would try you. The crazy thing is I don't really think that you exist. I certainly can't remember ever experiencing you during the 30 years I've been treading this earth. I've felt lonely and I've felt lost, my desires have been without aim, my every arrow has fallen well short of the mark. I really don't know what else to do, or where else to turn. I am sick and tired of this; please tell me what the point is?  I just can not sort this one out myself.

I feel ridiculous even writing this letter, I hope none of my mates find out. That will give them some real ammunition for months of ridicule. After all I've always been the great rationalist. I've always said that belief in God is for the weak minded and weak willed. Maybe that's what's happened to me I've lost my mind. I do know one thing I've run out of will power. Yet in my mind this is a ridiculous and futile act.

And yet this feels right. As I write this letter I feel calmer.  My mind is racing less and I can hear the birds singing again and the children playing in next doors garden. Suddenly I don't feel lonely or consumed by fear and anger. That emptiness seems to have gone. I'm remembering good times and smiling faces. People use to always say I had a lovely smile, when I was a little boy. God I have not smiled for a long time. When did that get lost? Now that's funny! I've just caught myself in the mirror and I had to laugh. People use to say that they knew when I was around because they could hear my laughter, in the next street. I haven't laughed for a long time.  When did I stop laughing? When did I become consumed by embarrassment? When did I become so utterly constrained by mySELF.

God I am now ready to let go of all this nonsense that has been holding me back and making my world very small. I am ready to start living again. Can you please help me?  

Danny Crosby

11th October 2003
South Manchester

Dear God,

Thank you. I'll try to keep in touch a bit more often.


Danny Crosby

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Charter for Compassion

One winter’s evening whilst gathered round a blazing camp fire, an old Sioux Indian chief told his grandson about the inner struggle that goes on inside people.

“You see” said the old man, “this inner struggle is like two wolves fighting each other. One is evil, full of anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, deceit, false pride, superiority, and ego”.

“The other one,” he continued, poking the fire with a stick so that the fire crackled, sending the flames clawing at the night sky, “is good, full of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith”.

 For a few minutes his grandson pondered his grandfather’s words and then asked, “So which wolf wins, grandfather?”

“Well”, said the wise old chief, his lined face breaking into a wry smile, “The one you feed!”

Religion for me is a simple matter, its sole purpose is to awaken our natural goodness and enable each human being to develop their compassionate natures. I do not believe that anyone is wholly bad, nor am I so naive as to believe that we are perfect either. We all have the capacity to be selfish and we can all be deeply compassionate too.  Whichever aspect of ourselves flourishes, depends primarily on what is nurtured.

Karen Armstrong has stated “that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness” She has spent many years studying the great faith traditions of the world and has discovered a common value that lays at the heart of all of them, compassion. She claims that the true purpose of religion is to develop our compassionate natures. Sadly though these traditions have often become lost and or hidden and over powered by fundamentalist strains within them. In her Book “The Case For God” she disputes the claims of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, writing that those three “insist that fundamentalism constitutes the essence and core of all religion.” In fact, she argues, it is “a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the tradition it is trying to defend.”

Armstrong views the Golden Rule, “love your neighbour as yourself”, as the essence of religious practice; claiming that it is a universal principle and that versions of it are at the core of every single one of the major faiths, theistic and non-theistic. She does not advocate one tradition above any other; she just states that at the core of all of them is the “Golden Rule of Compassion”

Armstrong recently launched the “Charter For Compassion ( http://charterforcompassion.org) to help promote what she sees as the essence of religion. At our denominational annual meetings we Unitarians and Free Christians voted unanimously to sign up to the charter. As a result of this I have pledged to promote the charter in my ministry. Over the coming weeks and months I will begin this process. Come and join me and thousands of others. All  are welcome

Examples of “The Golden Rule” found in the major faith traditions:

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. 
      Matthew 7:1
Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state. 
      Analects 12:2
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. 
      Udana-Varga 5,1
This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you. 
      Mahabharata 5,1517
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. 
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. 
      Talmud, Shabbat 3id
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
      Tai Shang Kan Yin P’ien
That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself. 
      Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Heaven is a place where everything connects

T.S. Elliot said that “Hell is a place where nothing connects” and that “Hell is oneself,” John Paul Satre replied to this by saying that no, “Hell is other people.” To some extent they are both correct. Hell, at least on earth, can often be oneself and it can be other people too.

Elliot believed that self absorption and self protection was what caused people to feel separate and alone. Many people today have a great deal of self awareness and yet they still feel cut off from life. Are we too self absorbed and are we suffering because we are experiencing over examined and under connected lives? Have we become lost in ourselves?

I believe there is truth in this, although it is not the whole truth. Perhaps some people feel cut off and alone because they are too focused on the faults in others. How often do we hear folk blaming others for all of their problems? This builds barriers and creates loneliness and cuts people off from one another. Yes hell can be ourselves and yes it can be other people too.

For many years of my life I felt disconnected cut off, lost and lonely. I felt like I was living in hell. I saw hell as myself and I also saw it as other people too. From a young age I learnt to protect myself from life, from pain. Of course I failed utterly in my attempts to do so, all I succeeded in achieving, eventually, was to cut myself off from any joy and actually experienced a deeper more ingrained suffering, what I have heard described as “the suffering within the suffering”.

I have learnt that Heaven and Hell, at least here on earth, are two sides of the same coin. They possess similar characteristics, although there is one important difference, how they are experienced. How we respond to suffering illustrates this perfectly. Two people can go through the same difficulties in life and yet they will often react to them very differently. For one it may well be described as a living hell and yet for the other they may well claim that they got a taste of heaven as they walked through it.

Suffering can cause division within ourselves and others either through self pity, or embarrassment or through the sense that life is treating us unfairly, that fate is singling us out. That said the very same experience of suffering can also unite us through a deeper shared sense of compassion and empathy. Suffering can lead us to feel as though we have been cast into hell and yet through it we can also get a taste of heaven. Or as Forrest Church put it “At times of trouble, alone we are often lost. But by reaching out to and for others we entertain the possibility of redemption.” In our suffering we can build up walls of self protection and yet at the same time this same suffering can foster compassion within us.

The fostering of compassion is I believe the purpose of religious community. By developing our compassion we can create heaven in our own lifetimes. By not fleeing from suffering, our own, or that of others, we can show to one another that in times of trouble we are not alone, we are not lost. By reaching out both to and for others we get a taste of heaven. Karen Armstrong says” that religion isn't about believing things. It's ethical alchemy. It's about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness." For me these intimations of holiness and sacredness is what connection is all about.

Heaven is a place where everything connects.

Monday, 9 May 2011


Synchronicity is a word that keeps tapping on my window, ever since I began my ministry at Altrincham and Urmston. The more I talk about it the more it seems to occur. Only in the last few days I have been aware of it on several occasions, there are three that really seem to stand out.

I was contacted by an old university mate, Max, last week; I have not seen him for about ten years. He recently got back in touch because I had bumped into a mutual mate Steve when I was studying at Luther King House. Steve was on a completely unrelated course there, the group he was with had just hired a room for the day. I haven’t actually seen Steve since that day 12 months ago, although we contact one another from time to time. Anyway Max has made arrangements to come to Manchester in a few weeks time and for us to meet up. Well the very next day I was in town with my dear friend Claire. Throughout the day I kept on bumping into old friends I’ve not seen for a while, including a man who helped me out, when I really needed, it a few years back. Sadly this man had recently lost his son and was still grieving.

We weren’t really sure what to do with the day and decided to take a left turn to look in a book store, there was something I wanted to get Claire. Well low and behold who do we bump into? Steve. I just burst into laughter, it was no surprise to me at all. I knew that I would see him that day. Some would call this happenchance and others merely coincidence, but I prefer the phrase synchronicity.

Later that evening I was looking for a hymn to end a service I was creating. I had picked an obscure reading for the service. I was not completely sure why, but I just felt like I ought to use it. Anyhow I was looking for a rousing hymn to end with, but one that was appropriate to theme of the service. I was a bit stuck but thought I might have found one. I opened a hymn book at completely the wrong page and was just about to turn it over again when suddenly I saw the words from the reading in the first verse of the hymn. It was also a rousing tune and just fitted in perfectly to theme of the service. Was this just random chance? Can synchronicity occur with inanimate objects?

The third occurrence I’d like to share happened yesterday morning. I left the Urmston congregation having led them in worship. I joined with the Altrincham folk and shared in worship created and led by several women members of the congregation. It was a wonderful experience and spoke powerfully to me. What was so amazing is that the main theme of the address was thematically identical to the subject of the address I had just shared at Urmston. I sat there grinning from ear to. We have made some powerful connections over the last few months and it is really showing. Yes I seem to be experiencing “meaningful coincidence” or do I mean “synchronicity” constantly, ever since I began my ministry last year.

What is synchronicity? The psychologist Carl Jung coined the phrase to explain what he called "meaningful coincidences " that occur due to seemingly unrelated events. His concept of synchronicity came about through the many baffling coincidences his patients shared with him in his practice, especially as he began to realize that the occurrences went beyond what could be attributed to mere chance. One example of synchronicity that really intrigued Carl Jung occurred with a patient recounting her dream of a golden scarab beetle. A young woman that Jung had been treating told him of a dream in which she had been given a golden scarab. He was sitting with his back to a closed window while she told him of the dream. Suddenly he heard a gentle tapping and turned to see a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. Jung opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. The insect closely resembled a golden scarab. It was the one closest related to such creature in their part of the world. Normally, such insects would not come into a dark room, but at the same moment the patient mentioned the beetle she had been given in her dream, this beetle appeared at Jung’s window. He was quite astonished at the coincidental timing and admitted that nothing like it ever happened to him before or since. This was also a breakthrough moment for the patient who had become bogged down in his attempts to treat her.

Synchronicity suggests that events we experience as human beings are more than mere chance, that there is more going on; that we humans and all of life are connected and at a deeper level than would outwardly appear. For me this suggests that who we are, what we think, feel, imagine, react to, are interrelated with the things going on around us in our environment. Who and what we are, how we appear to be to others and how, who, and what they are and how they appear to us converge together at moments in time. Often we are unaware of this. I know I was for most of my life. What is interesting to me is that the more aware of this I have become and the more I talk about synchronicity, the more frequently it appears to occur.

During my ministry at Altrincham and Urmston I have made it a priority of mine to visit every member of both congregations in their homes. During this wonderfully spiritually intimate times many people have related similar experiences to me in the conversations that we have been having with one another. Several people have described times and events when the universe appears to have spoken to them of a deeper connection to life and that they have responded to it in turn.

Mothers often talk about a connection with their children of feeling their pain, even when they are not physically in their company. I’ve heard similar experiences recounted by siblings especially twins. Can these occurrences be rationally explained, it would appear not and yet so many of us recount them.

I have felt this too. It happened to me the moment that Ethan, my friend Claire’s son died. I was sat on the bus travelling to work when suddenly I felt violently sick in my stomach. I had never felt a sensation like it before or since. I discovered sometime later this was the same moment that the breathing apparatus in the hospital was turned off and Ethan was declared dead. Now you could just say that this was coincidence, but I believe it was due to the connection between us. It is not something I thought much about at the time, but as I have reflected upon it since it has made more sense. Of course many would say I was just feeling ill. My answer to that would be, this was not merely travel sickness it was far more violent. I had a very special connection with Ethan, throughout the few years that he lived. He taught me how to experience the Love I know as God.

I believe that I experience synchronicity frequently these days. The psychology professor Dr Alan Combs suggests in his book “Synchronicity, Science, Myth and the Trickster” that “If you expect the unexpected, synchronicity will emerge.” This is mirrored by Carolyn North who states, "If your belief system is such that intuition and synchronicity are real and significant, you will notice them. If your belief system is that they’re hogwash, you won’t." Well my experiences have revealed to me that the more open to synchronicity I have become, the more often I experience it.

It would appear that the more awake to synchronicity I have become; the more I experience it in my life. This complex, interrelated world in which we live and the life we share is, I believe, deep with meaning and beauty. Living fully and well requires that we wake up to it and go with it. Cultivating this awareness helps us become more fully alive.

The key, it would appear, is to be awake.
It is said that soon after his enlightenment that the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence. The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?"
"No," said the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?" "No."
"Well, my friend, then what are you?"
The Buddha replied, "I am awake."
Life is a gift, a precious gift and one we are fortunate to experience at all. I have discovered that the more aware and awake to this we are the more we can experience synchronicity and the more blessed and fortunate we feel.

The key for me is to become and remain open; the universe will take care of the rest.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Let Go(d)

I am told that God is in the wind and in order to experience that power all I need to do is let go. It is interesting to me that “Ruach” one of the Old Testament word’s for God can be translated as “wind”.

I enjoyed a wonderful time with the Urmston folk last weekend, in the sunshine and the wind of Great Hucklow. I felt the force of Ruach pulsing through me at times. I felt it in the countryside as it blew through the branches of the great trees and I saw it in the loving attention and affection that people showed to one another, well most of the time.

I am having to let go at the moment. A relationship, that was very dear to my heart, has recently ended. I am of course sad about this, but am coming to terms with things. I do not let go easily, I am not sure that anyone ever really does. I am though getting much better at it. That said like those old school reports use to say, “could do better!” I do let go though, I have had to learn to. Why? Some may ask. Well to make enough space so that I can actually live the life I have been given.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have had to learn to let go of is the need to control. We all desire control, it’s a natural longing. From birth we begin to attempt to control our bodies, as we learn to use them. If anyone’s spent time with young children, you’ll see how they delight in bossing daft adults like myself around. This battle of control is really what the terrible two’s are all about. I’m sure you’ve all heard the joke. ‘What’s the difference between a two year old and terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.’
So yes we need to learn to control to a certain degree, the problems start when we begin to try to control others and our environment. I'm not even sure we should even be trying to control our inner environment either, our natural instincts, because when we do we just en-shadow and eventually en-power these natural desires and drives. This can lead to real problems in the long-term. It was certainly the root cause of much of the loneliness that use to plague my life.

I have not been trying to control my feelings these last couple of weeks. I have wanted to, but I have let them work naturally through me. I have not fled myself, nor have I fled life. I have felt low at times and revisited some old fears, but never once have I attempted to run from myself. I have always felt held through this, by trusted loving friends and by the love that I find in all life...that great mystery I know as God.

Every life is a journey, which moves from one stage to another. One of the great stories expresses this wonderfully, “The Jungle Book”. It was my favourite cartoon when I was a kid. I remember, in the days before video and DVD we had a vinyl recording of the sound track which I used to love singing along to. I think there is something of Baloo in me still.  The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, a boy brought up by wolves in the jungles of India. Mowgli loves life in the jungle, but when word gets out that Shere Khan, a menacing man-eating tiger is moving into the neighbourhood, Mowgli’s animal friends realize that he has to leave the jungle for the nearby village and the safety of fellow humans.

Mowgli gets sidetracked by Kaa, a hungry python, Baloo, a fun-loving bear, King Louie, an orang-utan, and four vultures who look and sound like the Beatles. Eventually Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera, their panther friend, defeat the man-eating tiger and end up at the edge of the jungle on the outskirts of the village. Mowgli is hesitant to leave all he knows and loves in the jungle. But eventually he is persuaded to move on to the village, especially after spotting a beautiful girl who is fetching water by the river. Isn’t it amazing how the promise of something exciting can help us overcome fear?

This story tackles the subject of letting go wonderfully. Mowgli had a great time in the jungle living with animals. But to realize his full potential, he had to live among humans, even though he found it tough and frightening at times.

As we move through our lives - from infancy to childhood to adolescence, adulthood to old age; from primary school to secondary school to higher education to work and then to retirement; from being single to marriage to having children and bringing them up- we let go. Of toys, friends, schoolmates, ideas, girlfriends, boyfriends, beliefs. As we let go we leave behind what holds us back and embrace what can lead us to growth and freedom. Of course we do not let go of everything, we carry much of what we pick up and learn along the way with us, we need it for the journey. If we mature and grow up we let go of what is no longer needed, if we don’t we carry it around with us, being weighed down by it.

I am a fairly new driver and I’m afraid I’m one who does not have great navigational skills. This means that most of the time I get around by Sat Nav. I used Sat Nav to get to Hucklow last Friday. It was a lovely journey, travelling through the quiet roads – most folks were watching the Royal Wedding and all that followed – my Sat Nav got me almost there without any bother. I say almost! As I was arriving at Great Hucklow I misread the directions and missed my turning. So I took the next one, which was a mistake. I ended up going up the wrong path, a broken track not suitable for cars. I thought I was going to break my car. I stayed calm, drove very slowly and came out of the other side unscathed arriving safely at my destination. I sat in the car for a few minutes and quietly prayed to myself. Afterwards I told folk what happened and was able to let go of my silly mistake. I think I may need to update my road maps though, or at least my road map reading sense.

M. Scott Peck in his classic, “The Road Less Travelled.”, talks about how people have to “update their maps.” He believed one’s world view was like a map. When we are young, we have a map of the world. It’s probably not a very accurate one, because we don’t have much experience of life. But as we grow older, have more experiences, learn more things and meet more people, that map has to be upgraded. Has to be updated. It must change to reflect the realities of the world. When we refuse to update our maps, to let go of beliefs, attitudes or ideas that don’t conform to reality, we stagnate, we get left behind, we do not grow up.

I agree with Peck, which leads me to ask the question how do we update our maps and move on? Well I have discovered three keys awareness, understanding and acceptance. These three need to be firmly in place, before we can begin to let go and move forward. We need to be aware of what is holding us back, what is blocking our potential. We need to understand how this is happening and how we are contributing to our own problems. Eventually we discover that this part of our lives no longer serves any purpose, we accept that it is time to face up to the fear of change and move on. Like Mowgli we step out of the jungle out of the wilderness and back onto the right path.

But how do we discover the three keys? There are of course many ways, what works best for me is prayer. Prayer helps me to bring about the awareness, understanding and acceptance that I need to let go and move on. I have become one of life's great prayers. Not bad for someone who use to think the whole thing was just a load of superstitious nonsense. That is one part of my map that I've upgraded, I've let go of the paralysing pure “rational” cynicism that once held me back and weighed me down. That said I don't expect the hand of God to come down and change everything for me. I'm not that self-centred. Prayer for me is about developing awareness and connectedness. Through prayer I connect to that which is greater than me and find the courage to do what is necessary to let go of what is holding me back and move on.

You might ask what I am praying to; well I can't really describe it. I have heard it called the "Great Mystery" and that seems to make some sense. That said I don't think I need to be praying to anyone or anything, in order to connect to that which is within ever fibre of my being and yet beyond all material existence. I've just found that through the practice of prayer I have connected more and more to the mystery of the universe. As a result I've begun to have faith in life itself and begun to trust myself. This has allowed me to keep moving on and letting go of that which serves no purpose.  Prayer gives me the courage to throw myself into the wind and risk what happens. It allows me to throw caution to the wind, something I can’t control by the way. Prayer also allows me to set my sails accordingly, something I do have control of or at least I do if I have awareness. It is a journey though and I've got a long way to go.

Letting go is about our daily lives. Every single one of us has something that is holding us back. It might be a false idea or attitude about life, it might be an addiction, it might be someone, or something.  I have discovered that it is only through self awareness and awareness of that that is greater than self that can give me the answers I seek.

“...I can feel it in the wind, I can feel it in the rain, I can feel it in the face of the storm..."

Monday, 2 May 2011

"Listen With The Ears Of Your Heart"

I’ve just returned from a weekend away with one of the two congregations I serve “Queens Road Unitarian Free Church, Urmston”. We spent a wonderful time at the Nightingale Centre in Great Hucklow Derbyshire, a place several of those attending have been going to since birth. In fact one man has been going there since before he was born. His mother was pregnant with him, the first time that he attended. There was about forty of us in attendance altogether ranging from the ages of 7 to 86. Well actually there was someone much younger in attendance. We discovered during the weekend that we had a pregnant mother with us, which brought some extra joy to the weekend.
I have been with both my congregations, Altrincham and Urmston, since last August and the longer I am there, the more I realise how different they are, in so many ways. The one way that they do not seem different is theologically, they are both as diverse as any Unitarian congregation I have been involved with. I am pleased about this. It does mean that I will never be able to please all of the people all of the time, but then I know that this is not my role. I am there to offer both spiritual and pastoral leadership, a commitment I do not undertake lightly. That said I am very aware how different they are culturally and structurally. I can now see how vital it was that I studied “Contextual Theology”. I wasn’t so sure at the time, but it is now making sense.
Urmston is very much a family church. Most of the people who were at the weekend are in some way connected to the Haslem family. Therefore in so many ways the weekend away was almost a family occasion. I say almost here, not exactly. I must add that this is not the case with total membership of the church, which is much more mixed.

I spent most of the weekend listening, which I believe is key to ministry. I often say I get to speak for an hour a week (well two in my case) and the rest of the time is devoted to listening.   “Listen with the ear of your heart”, has become one of my mantras over the last few months. It comes from “The Rule of Benedict” a set of ancient principles for monastic orders, followed by many Christian and some Buddhist communities today. The foundation of the rule is listening, deep attentive listening. It begins, “listen carefully, my child, to the instructions...and attend to them with the ear of your heart “. What is required is deep listening, a concept proposed, in contemporary times, by the Dalai Lama. I spend much of my life practising listening and practising paying attention. This is why prayer is so vital to life. It allows me to transcend the confines of myself and to connect to what is happening all around me.
Well I listened a lot this weekend. I spoke a little but primarily I listened as people opened up their hearts and told me of their joys and their pains and very occasionally about their personal religious beliefs and disbeliefs (I have noticed that Unitarians are more likely to tell you what they can’t believe in, rather than what they actually do believe in). I also witnessed a lot of genuine human love expressed as we walked in the Derbyshire hills, sat in the lounge area and shared food together. It was a wonderful occasion to feel a part of.
I have left with a lot to reflect upon. I suppose that this is my first real opportunity. I’ve been in a bit of a bubble these last couple of days and am now returning to the world outside of this congregation’s window. A world that is not always as loving as these people obviously are, at least to one another.

Peace and Love