Saturday, 31 March 2012

Holy Fools: Uncommon Sense

The blog below was originally published on "April Fools Day" 2012, when it fell on the same day as "Palm Sunday"...


“Life is too serious to be taken too seriously”  I can’t really remember where I was when this first dawned on me or who first said it to me, or where I first heard it. It is though a line that keeps on re-emerging into my consciousness. “Life is too serious to be taken too seriously”.

I suspect it originates from that great Victorian wit Oscar Wilde who said “Life is too important to be taken seriously”. Maybe, maybe not. I know that they are words that I keep on remembering.

Today is Palm Sunday, but it is also the 1st of April, “April Fools Day”. I am sure that we’ve all fallen for April fools Jokes over the years. I think the most famous one must be the Panorama "Spaghetti Tree Hoax" of 1957. The program showed images of spaghetti growing on trees. Pasta was a not a popular dish in those days and apparently hundreds of viewers phoned the BBC as a result asking how they could grow their own spaghetti. Many years later CNN described the broadcast as “The biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.”



No one is really sure of the origins of April Fool’s Day. There are references made to it in Jeffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century and there are festival of fools that can be found throughout most cultures dating back to ancient times. I suspect that the modern day custom has its origins in sixteenth century France. In 1564, under the reign of Charles IX, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted. Prior to this date New Year had been celebrated, with the giving of gifts, on the vernal Equinox on March 21st. New Year now fell on 1st of January. People were now expected to give gifts on New Year’s day and they also began to give mock gifts on 1st April. It seemed that many folk resisted the change and those who persisted with the old ways were victimised and had pranks played on them. These people became known as an “April Fish”. April Fish are pinned on people's backs to this day, on April 1st.

There is great wisdom in folly. The fool can reveal deeper truths that common wisdom appears blind to. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter 3 v 18 makes reference to the wise fool. He said “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.” Every culture, throughout human history, has a version of the “Holy Fool” The fool fulfils a vital role , he counteracts human arrogance and pomposity, he protects humanity from hubris. He breaks down the order of things and his crazy outspoken talk questions what is regarded as common sense; he reveals a new kind of sense, an uncommon sense. His unconventional appearance exposes the pride and vanity of those around him and his seeming foolhardy loyalty and love of hopeless causes undercuts the self interest of those who possess power. That said this does make him vulnerable and at the mercy of those who hold power in this world. The "Holy Fool" is often abused.

One of my favourite “Holy Fools” is Nasrudin. “The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin” by the Sufi Mystic Idries Shah, chronicles his adventures. I love Nasrudin because he is funny, but also because he possesses uncommon sense. He often uses his apparent foolishness to his advantage. Below are a couple of tales based on his wisdom...


One day Nasruddin saw a man sitting by the roadside sobbing uncontrollably.

"Why are you crying, my friend?" asked Nasruddin.
"Because all I own is in this bag" said the man, holding up a tatty little canvas bag.
"Just look. all I have are a couple of rotting pieces of fruit, some stale bread, a few rags, a bit of old rope and few coins. That's it. I don't own anything else, and I'm so miserable."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Nasruddin, sympathetically, and he immediately grabbed the man's bag and set off running at top speed down the road.
"Oh, now I have absolutely nothing!" wailed the poor man, but he picked himself up from the ground, and began walking wearily in the direction Nasruddin had gone.
"If I can find the thief, maybe he'll take pity on me and give me my bag back," he thought to himself.
He'd walked about a mile when he saw his bag lying in the middle of the road. He ran towards it, picked it up, kissed it and shouted out, "Hurray, I've got my bag and all my belongings back. Thank you, thank you!"
"How strange." said Nasruddin, as he appeared from behind a bush. "how strange that the bag which a few minutes ago was making you cry is now making you ecstatically happy."


Nasrudin met an old friend whom he had not seen for twenty years. They sat down together in the cafe and talked over old times. “did you ever get married Nasruddin?” asked the friend.
“No I’m afraid I didn’t.”
“Why not? I’ve been married many years and I’ve never regretted it.”
“Well”, said Nasruddin, “I was always looking for the perfect woman. I wanted my wife to be beautiful, intelligent, and sensible.”
“And you never found her?”
“I thought I had, when I was twenty. Her name was Ablah.
She was beautiful, just the kind of woman I like, but I’m afraid she wasn’t very intelligent, and her language was atrocious! I was embarrassed to be with her! She certainly wasn’t the perfect woman.”
“Was she your only girlfriend?”
“No. When I was twenty-five I met a woman called Bahira. She was good looking and intelligent, but she wasn’t very sensible. She spent all my money on frivolous things, and she couldn’t even boil an egg! She wasn’t the perfect woman either.”
“Were there any more?”
“Only one. At thirty I met Haddiyah and she was truly a gift from God! She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and the most intelligent. What’s more she was prudent and sensible, a good cook, and a brilliant conversationalist.”
“She sounds like the perfect woman you were looking for.”
“Then why didn’t you marry her?”
“Unfortunately, she was looking for the perfect man!”


It is not always easy being the fool, holy or otherwise. Just think of the Jester in King Lear. He does not gain the King’s favour by revealing the truth about him. The King threatens to whip the fool when he refuses to tell the whole truth and the fool responds by saying that he wishes that he could lie. King Lear then replies by saying he will whip him if he does lie, to which the fool utters these  immortal words...“They want to whip me for telling the truth, you want to whip me for lying, and sometimes I’m even whipped for keeping quiet. I’d rather be anything besides a fool.”

I’m sure we’ve all felt this frustration at times. It will hurt if we tell the truth, it will hurt if we tell a lie and it will hurt if we remain silent. No it’s not always easy playing the fool, Holy or otherwise.

Below is the "Holy Fool" scene from the opera "Boris Godunov"



So much of what Jesus is purported to have said is cloaked in mystery. To most logically minded people it may not even make sense, but what’s wrong with a bit of mystery? Mystery can often reveal deeper, hidden truths. He said: lend money but don’t expect to get it back; love your enemies; that the poor are blessed by God; that the person who gave the least, actually gave the most; that you should invite strangers to your party; that the tiniest seeds grow into the biggest plants. Yes Jesus was the King of paradox, he spoke in riddles. His sayings shocked and surprised those who heard them, because they reversed the order of the day. I suspect that Jeremy Paxman would have struggled with him. He answered questions with questions or with a story which on the surface does not necessarily make sense. The point is that he was trying to make the questioner think for themselves. He mocked religious piousness and hypocrisy. Long before the story of the emperor’s new clothes he pointed out who was dressed and who was undressed. He definitely displayed uncommon sense.

When I say life is too serious to be taken too seriously I am not being flippant and I am not denying the harsh realities of life. I am very aware of them. In the examples I have shared and many others, the life of the holy fool is far from easy, they are all hurt and abused at one time or another. Things are constantly going wrong, they are made to look foolish and are often embarrassed. There is a great deal of humour in the stories, but they are by no means a barrel of laughs.

We need the “Holy Fools”, on so many levels. We need humour, we need laughter, we need someone to point out when the king is in the all together. We need someone to reveal that uncommon sense that is so easy to miss.

On Palm Sunday Jesus was mocking the triumphant entry of the victorious Roman emperors and the people knew this. The Roman’s had conquered the entire known world of that day. They imposed their rule of law over the Jewish people and their religious leaders simply went along with it, deep down the people knew this. Jesus broke through their denial. His entry was a protest, but one filled with humour, a bit like a modern day flash mob I suppose. He was criticising what he saw as the hypocrisy of the time, but he did it with love. He was not simply mocking people for the sake of it and poking fun at the defenceless in some crude or crass manner. He was motivated by pure love and I think that this is the real key to the power of his message.

Humour is a vital tool for pointing the truth out to someone. Why? Because sometimes pointing out the direct truth can be too painful. The truth can sometimes be too unpalatable, so we need to wash it down with a spoon full of sugar or a good dose of humour. Jesus and others like him were great teachers because of how they revealed these uncommon truths that most folks wouldn’t or couldn’t face up to. They did not merely present facts or rules, they told stories, made jokes or gave us some unforgettable examples. By conveying a tiny mustard seed of truth, a great truth eventually sprouted and grew and thus uncommon sense truly did flower into common sense.

I think this is the message of Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day; this seeking of the uncommon, unobvious sense; this looking for the truth that is not easily found. The Buddhists teach that the beautiful lotus flower grows in the most unexpected of places, in the muck. Well maybe it’s the same with all of life, maybe this is the ultimate joke. Maybe this is what we all fail to see and maybe just maybe it takes a holy fool to point this out to us.

Maybe the problem is that we’ve spent too long seeking after common sense when in reality the truth is only revealed through un-commonsense?

Maybe that commonwealth of love is already here amongst us we just have not yet got eyes that can see it or ears that can hear it?




Friday, 23 March 2012

Heaven & Hell: To care or to careless?

I came across this story in Rev Bill Darlison wonderful book “The Shortest Distance: 101 Stories from the World’s Spiritual Traditions”. You can find many version of it. I also found a very similar version written from a Jewish perspective.


Once upon a time...long long ago...in Japan, a woman prayed that God would show her the difference between heaven and hell. She wanted to know whether there were fires in hell, and whether the people in heaven sat around on clouds all day playing harps. She didn’t fancy going to either place if that was all they had to offer.

She prayed so hard that God decided to answer her prayer, and he sent an angel to give her a guided tour of both places...angels are good like that...first she went to hell. It wasn’t hot at all; in fact it looked quite pleasant. There were long tables laden with food of all kinds – cooked meats, vegetables, fruit, delicious pies, and exotic desserts. “This can’t be hell,” she thought. Then she looked at the people. They were sitting some distance from the tables, and they were all miserable – emaciated, pale, angry. Each of them had chopsticks fastened to their hands, but the chopsticks were about three feet long and no matter how hard they tried, the people just couldn’t get the food into their own mouths. They were groaning with hunger, and frustration, and anger. “I’ve seen enough of this,” said the woman. “May I see heaven now?”
The angel took the woman to heaven. They didn’t have far to go. It was just next door. It was almost the same as hell. There were the same kind of tables, the same kind of food, and here too, the people were sitting a little distance away from the tables with three-foot long chopsticks fastened to their hands. But these people seemed happy. They were rosy cheeked, and looked well fed. They were smiling and chatting merrily to each other. They couldn’t put the food into their mouths either, but they had discovered how to be fed and happy: they were feeding each other.


Last Friday was one of those days when I experienced just about every emotion imaginable. It was also a day when I believe that I witnessed humanity at its very best. I attended the funeral of the partner of a member of one of the congregations I serve.  It was a beautifully moving service and I was particularly touched by the way his friends and family shared their personal experiences of his life. It is tragic that such a joy filled life ended so soon.

That same evening I attended a dinner celebrating Rev Dr Ann Peart’s presidency of our General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. This was a wonderful and joy filled occasion. It was also an opportunity to spend time with colleagues and friends I rarely see these days, some of whom have been central to my journey into Unitarian ministry. We shared fellowship that night as we talked and ate and offered toasts of thanks.

There was a common theme that was threaded through both of these contrasting gatherings, that of human love. I witnessed humanity at its very best at the young man’s funeral as friends and family held one another through the hardest thing that any of us have to face, the death of a loved one. This same love was also present at Ann’s celebratory meal as we came together to offer thanks to Ann for her loyal service to our free religious faith.

I came back from the meal in high spirits and then I received another bombshell. I was informed that a dear friend had been found dead that very evening. We had been close for many years and of course his death has caused me and many people I care deeply about inexplicable pain. Again these last few days I have witnessed humanity at its very best as many of us have come together in support to hold one another in our shared grief. I have witnessed true fellowships; fellows holding one another in their shared ship of grief.

In the story “Heaven and Hell” appear exactly the same and yet they are experienced oh so differently. In Hell all go hungry because everyone tries to feed themselves only, they are purely self reliant. And yet in heaven they attempt to feed one another and are therefore fed in abundance. To me this is as much about the relationships as the food going into one another’s mouths. I believe that we all possess an innate need to serve one another that if we do not do this part of our natural humanity withers away and dies off. By not serving one another we starve our souls.

I think that one of the greatest delusions of the modern era is the myth of self reliance, this idea that as individuals we have all that we need and that we do not need one another. Jeffrey Lockwood in his meditation “to ask is to give” claims that:

“...One of the great blessings of travel is to be put in a position of asking help from others, to be genuinely needful of strangers. Our illusion of self-reliance evaporates as the unexpected and unfamiliar merge into vulnerability. We offer the gift of authentic need, the opportunity for deep trust. We express to another person the most humanizing cross-cultural phrase: “Please help me.”...In our society, self-sufficiency is heralded as a virtue, and chronic dependence on others can be degrading. But never being asked to help another person is isolating, even dehumanizing. In a culture that exalts autonomy, asking for help may be one of the greatest gifts we offer. So much of life has become a calculation of costs and benefits; to ask assistance is to create the opportunity for unconditional giving in raw, spiritual defiance of economic rationality. We become mutually indebted without expectation of repayment. Each person in the relationship becomes a giver and receiver. Each one becomes more human. Each one has something to be thankful for.”

There are several slightly different accounts in the Gospels of Jesus feeding crowds of people. Some people get hung up on the facts of whether Jesus could feed the thousands of people present with just a few fish and loaves, but is this what these stories are about? I do not think so. To get hung up on the factual accuracy is to miss the whole point of the teaching behind the story. Mythological tales are not about fact they are about revealing deeper universal truths. In one of the versions  found in Mark (Ch 8 vv 1-9) there is a key phrase that I believe is rich in meaning “They ate and were filled”.

In this account Jesus had spent three days with the people he feeds. He had not invited them to join him and therefore was certainly not obliged to feed them. I am sure that the crowd were not expecting to be fed by the meagre amount that the disciples brought. But what happens? Well Jesus recognises the crowds hunger and the fact that they have travelled a great distance to be with him, he expresses compassion for all of them. He asks the crowd to sit down and to share a meal with him. He then instructs the disciples to serve the people personally. The crowd eat and are filled. This is not because their bodies were filled, but because a deeper hunger was met. What occurs is a true human encounter between the disciples and the crowd, the people are served face to face and are therefore truly loved and cared for. They were not just physically fed they were personally served and therefore their humanity recognised. Each individuals hunger mattered.


I am someone who enjoys their food and most people know this. Wherever I go people feed me and I do find it hard to say no to them. I find it hard to say no to anybody actually, it is just the way I am I suppose. I am though trying to say no at the moment. I have to otherwise I am going to burst. That said I know that when you go into someone’s home the offering of hospitality is so important. To refuse hospitality is an insult, so yes it is difficult to say no. This is hard when visiting people as a minister. A colleague of mine told me that I have to do it though. She said that when she first entered ministry she couldn’t say no to anyone’s hospitality and as a result put on two stones in weight within the first 12 months. I just need to find a way to accept some ones hospitality without necessarily always eating the food.

The truth is of course that being fed by someone is not really about the food at all. It is about the relationship, it is about hospitality. I recently attended dinner at a friend’s house, the food was magnificent. That said this is not the reason that I was there. I was there to spend time with this friend, something I rarely find the time for these days. The friend made a real fuss; they wanted the evening to be perfect. They spent the whole night popping in and out of the kitchen, just to ensure that the food was perfect. I kept trying to engage them in conversation, but sadly they were more concerned about the food being perfect. I really appreciated the food, it was gorgeous and yet I was never able to engage my friend in conversation which was the whole point of me being there. They had invited me round to talk and yet this is the one thing that we failed to do. I left feeling very hungry that night, even though my belly was full. Yes I ate, but I was not filled.


If I have learnt anything in life I have learnt that I need healthy relationships with others in order to live a full life. While the spiritual life does indeed need times of aloneness to develop it cannot be expressed or embodied in solitude. Lent is very much about preparing in solitude, it is about deprivation on so many levels but that is not its final goal. Its purpose is to prepare the individual for service, for the expression of love one to another. The spiritual life cannot be truly experienced in isolation. Why? Because surely the spiritual life is about relationships; relationships with our true selves, others and whatever it is that we believe is at the core of all life.


Over the last few days I have witnessed true spirituality. I have seen people truly in relationship with one another. We do care. to not care, to careless, is to experience inhumanity actually. It is to become trapped inside oneself. These last few weeks I have witnessed people in excruciating personal agony express deep concern for one another. They have shared their love and have shared their pain. they have fed one another and they have drunk from one another's cup. They have truly served one another and in doing so have experienced something of heaven,                                                     


We all thirst and hunger even in our seemingly materially abundant lives. We cannot feed this hunger in isolation, in self reliance, it is only fed in that relationship that occurs as we feed one another. We all hunger for purpose and meaning. As Viktor Frankl pointed out we are driven by a will to find meaning and purpose. I would go further and suggest that we are also driven to find true companionship in our increasingly isolated and isolating culture. We need to serve one another, or our souls will starve. I have discovered and I keep on discovering  that our deepest pangs are not satisfied by the food that is laid on the table but in the relationship that occurs as we feed one another and as we drink from one another's cup.


"From you I receive to you I give together we share and from this we live."







Saturday, 17 March 2012

Mothers: The True Olympians

Today is Mothering Sunday or Mother’s day. For most of us it is a day of joy; a day set a-side to celebrate the gift of motherhood. That said this is not the case for everyone. For some it will be a day tinged with sadness as they remember the mum’s they have lost, who are no longer here. For some mothers it is a time to remember lost children, either through un-reconcilable differences or deaths dark shadow. This day I will be remembering those mothers.

I will also be remembering those mothers’s whose children are away at war and who worry daily about them. I will also think of those of us who have never born children who have never experienced that gift, due to a variety of circumstances. I will also remember those, who for whatever reason, find their relationships with their own mothers or their own children difficult, for who today may bring up painful and difficult emotions...I will pause this morning and hold those for whom today will be a difficult and painful day. I will then celebrate motherhood, perhaps life's greatest gift.

A new member of the congregations I serve recently gave me the following piece...It is beautiful...

The young mother set her foot on the path of life. "Is this the long way?" she asked.

The guide said, "Yes, and the way is hard. You will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning."


But the young mother was happy, and she could not believe that anything could be better than these years.


So she played with her children, gathered flowers for them along the way, and bathed them in the clear streams. As the sun shone on them, the young mother cried, "Nothing could ever be lovelier than this."


Then the night came ... and the storm ... and the path became dark. The children shook with fear and cold. The mother drew them close to her and covered them with her mantle.


The children said, "Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near. No harm can come to us."


Then morning came. There was a hill ahead, and the mother and her children climbed it and grew weary. She would frequently tell the children, "Keep your patience because we are almost there."


So the children continued to climb. When they reached the top, they said, "Mother, we would not have done it without you."


When the mother laid down at night, she looked up at the stars and thought, "This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I gave them courage. Today I have given them strength."

The next day, strange clouds appeared which darkened the earth ... clouds of war, hate, and evil. As the children groped and stumbled, the mother said, "Look up! Lift your eyes to the light!"

The children looked. They saw above the clouds, an everlasting glory, and it guided them beyond the darkness.

That night, the mother said, " This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God."

The days went on, and the weeks, and the months, and the years. The mother grew old and she was little and bent over. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage.

When the way was rough, they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather. At last they came to the top of a hill. They could see a shining road with a golden gate that opened wide.

The mother said, "I have reached the end of my journey. I now know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone, and their children after them."

The children said, "You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.

They stood and watched her as she went on alone. The gates closed after her. The children said, "We cannot see her, but she is still with us. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence."

Our mother is always with us. She's the whisper of the leaves as we walk down the street. She's the smell of bleach in our freshly laundered socks. She's the cool hand on our brow when we're not feeling well.

Our Mother lives inside our laughter. She's crystallized in every tear drop we shed.

She's the place we came from ... our first home. She's the map we follow with every step we take.

She's our first love and our first heartbreak, and nothing on earth can separate us from her ...Not time ... not space ... not even death!

"A Mother's Walk" by Temple Bailey written for Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1933

2012 is Olympic year. To be an Olympic champion takes courage and discipline and sacrifice. The Olympian gives up so much in order to achieve glory, to become the champion. For this the champion is rewarded, they are given the “Gold Medal”. It is also worth noting that they do all that they do for themselves. They do not sacrifice for another. They do not give for loves sake. Yes we honour them with hero status, but should we?

Do we have heroes or maybe heroines closer to home? Maybe there are true Olympians nearby. Do we really need to seek them out? There are those around us who give and sacrifice in courageous and disciplined ways not for themselves but for others. They give purely in love. They give of themselves for others, in so many unimaginable ways. Do they receive medals for their heroic deeds? No I do not believe that they do.

Anyone who gives of themselves in motherhood, male or female is a true Olympian. Today we celebrate the gift of motherhood in this the middle Sunday of Lent. This seems entirely appropriate to me. Lent is after all about courage, it is about discipline and above all it is about self giving love. Motherhood seems to be the perfect example of this.

So today I am celebrating universal motherhood and the love that it so perfectly embodies. Let’s celebrate the mothers we have known and the love that they have naturally shown.



I will end this blog in celebration of motherhood with this prayer I recently found...


A mother's love

“We feel the happiness of true creation when we give birth to a child. The beat of a mother’s heart is wonderful music: bearing the reassurance of dawn, the warmth of noon, the purple sunset. It is in one word, wholeness.”

We come to give thanks for the mothers who bore us and nurtured us; to celebrate the love and kindness we received from them.

We come to give thanks for the children entrusted to us for a little while.

Holy One, Be with us in both joy and the grief they bring.

We come to give thanks for this wonderful creation, for our mother the Earth, and for the glory of life in which we share.

Amen

by Kinga-Reka Szekely, a Unitarian minister and mother in Transylvania


P.S. Can anyone argue with Mr T?




Thursday, 8 March 2012

The true realist has to be an idealist



I recently came across this grainy old video clip of Viktor Frankl on You Tube. I love it.

My love for Frankl seems to grow by the day. Of all the great 20th century thinkers he may well be my favourite. His zest and enthusiasm is so evident in this clip, as well as his obvious humour. He took his work seriously without taking himself too seriously.

As someone once said to me “Life is too serious to be taken too seriously”

In this wonderful little clip he argues that in order to reach our potential we must aim higher than we think we are capable of. He argues that a true realist must be an idealist. He points to what we are all capable of being, if we could just tap into our God given human potential.

By definition the idealist always overestimates what is possible. Where as a realist will only estimate exactly what is possible and no more. In fact perhaps a realist will ever so slightly underestimate what is possible, just to be on the safe side. Just to ensure that they don’t over estimate things and aim too high. Just to avoid disappointment.

Is this truly realistic though?

Frankl suggest that by aiming at a realistic level we always fall short of the mark. By taking a realistic view of people we are setting them up to fall way short of what they are capable of achieving. Where as if we aim high and become idealists about human nature we can lift people up to where they are capable of reaching and thus if they fall short of this mark, they fall to a realistic level. For Frankl a true realist, must be an idealist. To achieve what we are capable of we must overestimate what is possible; to become our true selves we must be optimistic; to achieve what we are capable of achieving we must believe that we are capable of more than we actually are.

The children at chapel recently presented me with a medal for my smile. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply moved I was by this or how grateful I was to receive it. It blew me away to be honest.


I go about my life in an enthusiastic manner and I try to give off a positive attitude. My work as a minister is challenging, but I do love it. It means an awful lot to me that others recognise this, especially the children. They cannot be fooled.

I had awoken that morning in good spirits and my face had been over taken by a smile it would seem. It did feel like the first day of spring, although evidence since then seems to be contradicting my conclusion. That said I awoke with great hope and enthusiasm and I carried that into the day. I believe that I projected that into my ministry that morning and as result I was rewarded with the most beautiful gift of a medal, for my smile.

I recently found this little tale. It is by that famous author "Anonymous"

"Life is Echo"

A man and his son were walking in the forest.

Suddenly the boy trips and feeling a sharp pain he screams, "Ahhhhh." 
Surprised, he hears a voice coming from the mountain, "Ahhhhh"
Filled with curiosity, he screams:
"Who are you?",
but the only answer he received is:
"Who are you?"
This makes him angry, so he screams:
"You are a coward!",
and the voice answers:
"you are a coward!"

He looks at his father, asking,

"Dad, what is going on?"
"son," the man replies, "pay attention!"
Then he screams, "I admire you!"
The voice answers: "I admire you!"
The father shouts, "You are wonderful!",
and the voice answers:
"You are wonderful!"

The boy is surprised, but still can't understand what is going on.
Then the father explains,

"People call this 'ECHO',
but truly it is 'LIFE!' Life always gives you back what you give out!
Life is a mirror of your actions.
If you want more love, give more love!
If you want more kindness, give more kindness!
If you want more understanding and respect, give more understanding and respect!
If you want people to be patient and respectful to you, give patience and respect!
This rule of nature applies to every aspect of our lives."

Life always gives you back what you give out.
your life is not a coincidence, but a mirror of your doings.

I do believe that generally speaking life is echo, what we give off we often get back. Not always of course we all live and deal with injustice, but I do generally follow this rule of thumb. The more positive energy and love I give out to the world, the more I tend to get back. 


I have a genuine love for life and people and take a fairly positive view of most things. I am an idealist and I live in hope for humanity. This is why Universalism speaks to me; it is a hope filled faith. Yes it recognises the despair in life, but it also points to the hope that is rooted in this very despair. We do have choices in life. We can either live in fear or in faith that life has so much to offer us. Yes there are many unanswerable questions re the nature of life and the nature of humanity, why wonderful things happen and why the most dreadful can happen. I am not sure that we will ever find the answers in the whys and wherefores.
.
I have discovered that meaning only comes in living with hope and courage; it does not come in getting bogged down within our individual suffering. By saying “yes to life” in answer to “no’s” fear, we manifest the courage to be, to live. This comes in those simple acts of self giving love; those acts that fill our cup with love as we empty it in service to and for others. Meaning comes as we give from our own cup of suffering in an attempt to help another in their hour of need. 


I agree with Frankl the true realist has to be an idealist.

Idealism takes courage where as the better safe than sorry approach is all about fear. The cautious approach seems to lack courage and is symptomatic of philosophies that take a negative view of humanity. Yes we all do wrong, we all sin, but that is not all that we are. We are not rotten to the core; I simply do not believe this. We all have the capacity for good and evil, each and every single one of us.

Maybe the real problem is that we are not cautious enough about our safety. Maybe we fail to see the danger in the safety first approach to life.

Forrest Church said:
We must be as cautious about safety as we are about risk. Take no other risks and we still run the danger of leading a sorry life. In fact, when it comes to things that really matter, in exchange for the benefits that risk can bring, sometimes it is better to be sorry than safe...Even if safety should become our primary objective in life, to keep ourselves safe is impossible. People die in beds and in bathtubs. Joggers die. Vegetarians die. So do non-smokers and teetotallers. Even people with low cholesterol die. Not to mention the millions who die of complications from anxiety itself. To be free of acceptable risk is not life’s goal, but its enemy. By inviting non-being to the party years before one’s death day, fear protects us not from death but from life...”

So how does all of this help us to live better lives and to create the commonwealth of love here on earth? Well maybe it begins by simply projecting a little positivity into the world. Maybe it begins with a smile at a stranger in the street.

Life is echo. If we want to experience love we need to project love into our world. If want to live in a happier more loving community we need to project that out of ourselves. We need to be true realists by being idealists about ourselves and humanity in general. This is not to ignore the darker side of life, far from it. We need to acknowledge what is wrong with the world, without becoming weighed down by it.

The Kingdom of God truly is amongst us and within us; it is our task to let it shine out of us. 


Sometimes that begins with just one smile.

You never know they may just present you with a medal for it...


Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Enneagram: Number Seven "The Enthusiast"

Last Sunday, after worship, the children at Dunham Road presented me with a medal for my smile. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply moved I was by this or how grateful I was to receive it. It blew me away to be honest.

I go about my life in an enthusiastic manner and I try to give off a positive attitude. My work as a minister is challenging, but I do love it. It means an awful lot to me that others recognise this, especially the children. They cannot be fooled.

By nature I am an optimist an enthusiast. I get excited by new things in life, this is my natural state. I will never forget the first time I flew. As I approached the plane I was visibly shaking, my whole body was exploding with excitement. I remember that my mum was also shaking and I asked her about it. The difference was that she was shaking with fear, where as with me it was purely about the thrill of what I was about to engage with. I was overcome with excitement.

As a student minister I spent an awful long time exploring how people think and learn and the many varieties of personality types that we are likely to come across in ministry. People are oh so different and as a minister it is vital that I understand this. We were also encouraged to take different personality tests to see which type we were. Of all the different ones that we explored it was the Enneagram that interested me the most.

The Enneagram uncovers nine different personality types, these being  the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger and the peacemaker. It has its roots in eastern mysticism and was popularised in the west by George Gudjeff. He believed that everyone has three personal centres, these being located in the head, the heart and the belly. The nine points of the Enneagram are split into this triad. Gudjeff taught that we had to discover how our personalities block us from our true essence.

According to the test I took I am a “Seven”, the “Enthusiast”. “Sevens” are found in the thinking triad. They are constantly planning new adventures and looking out for possible dangers. They are winged by the entertainer and the realist. At their worst, when moving towards their “disintegration” “Sevens” take on the negative characteristics of the perfectionists. However at their best when moving towards their “integration” they become fascinated by the joy and wonder of life, like a healthy “investigator”. “Seven's” yearn for freedom, excitement, enthusiasm and escapism. They do not appear afraid, are talkative, engaging and like to play. Richard Rohr claims that “Seven's” have often experienced trauma in childhood and are ruled by the fear of this pain. In order to cope with this they have evolved a double strategy of repression of negativity and planning of excitement. At their bests the “Sevens” enthusiasm can become infectious and motivates others into action. At their worst sevens are prone to addiction, appear infantile and become depraved, erratic, moody, manic and depressive.

I am definitely a “Seven”. I carried the pain of traumatic events with me for many years and wasted so much of my life trying to avoid these memories and ensuring that nothing similar could happen again. I lived with a heightened sense of danger, while paradoxically being a thrill seeker. Normality never satisfied me. I have struggled with commitment and boredom for most of my life. That said I have often brought out the best in other people and always been engaging and interesting company, full of ideas and information. I have enjoyed some incredible highs in my life and achieved a great deal. I have also over indulged, I became an addict. This led to total collapse a few years ago.

Through Alcoholics Anonymous I have come to terms with the problems within my character, I have overcome my addictive nature and attained sobriety. I have moved towards the best aspects of the “Seven” personality. I have become what Richard Rohr describes as a redeemed “Seven”. I experience sober joy in the simple gifts of life. That said I do know that I have to be aware of the extreme elements of my personality. I have to be particularly vigilant with regards to my tendency to gloss over the darker elements of reality, while still experiencing the joy of living.

Check out the Enneagram you may find the results interesting, You can find a free test here: http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/Tests_Battery.asp

I know the link to this video is tenuous. I included just because it's a great song...enjoy...