Sunday, 1 September 2013

Pay it Forward

"Do all the good you can

By all the means you can,

In all the ways you can,

In all the places you can,

At all the times you can,

As long as ever you can "

Words of John Wesley the father of Methodism.

A week last Friday I drove up to Keswick to conduct the funeral of Bill Molyneux. I set off very early in the morning and decided to call in at Stretford cemetery on the way. The date was 23rd of August (2013), it would have been Ethan’s 13th birthday. Unfortunately I had not really thought ahead and had assumed that the gates would be open, they were of course locked at that hour, 6 o'clock in the morning. I left feeling annoyed and frustrated and somewhat tired, with a little trapped in emotion. Thankfully as I drove I was able to connect to my purpose that day.

It was a beautiful journey through the Lake District and a deeply moving day. I was able to get back in time, before it turned dark and visit the cemetery to leave my card, to talk with him at the side of the grave and to offer thanks and praise for all that Ethan gave in his short but rich life.

Following Bill’s funeral we shared a lovely tea at a local hotel and his friends, family and former colleague Bob shared some beautiful memories about his life. It is obvious he was a greatly loved man. I sat next to Bob who shared many tales about Bill and few other stories too. Bill used to run a jam making factory and Bob recounted a tale when they had run out of supplies of damsons. He had noted I was from Yorkshire and said that this type of jam was very popular there. Bob recounted how he began the round of calls all over the north of England in a desperate search for extra supplies. Eventually he got through to a firm in Yorkshire who had plenty extra. Bob thanked the man at the end of the phone adding “I don’t know how or when we will be able to pay you back for this.” To which the man replied, “Nah then lad, thas no need to pay us back, there’s no debt. What I’d like thee to do is pay it forward.”

Bill’s business partner explained to me that what the man had wanted him to do was to remember this favour and to pass it on when someone else was in trouble and needs a favour too. He didn’t want him to pay it back, he wanted him to pay it forward.

This really got me thinking. First of all it exploded one of those myths about Yorkshire folk and especially one of those awful clich├ęs that are said of us. You have no doubt heard this one “Ear all, see all, say nowt; eyt all, sup all, pay nowt; and if ivver tha does owt fer nowt allus do it fer thissen.” Which roughly translates as “Hear all, see all, say nothing; eat all, drink all, pay nothing; and if ever you do anything for nothing always do it for yourself.”

The man on the other end of the phone certainly exploded that myth. He didn’t want the favour to be paid back, instead it wanted it to be paid forward, to be passed on to the next person in need.

Pay it forward is an interesting term, don’t you think?

There are disagreements over its origins, which may well go back to the ancient Greeks. Luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson made reference to the principle. In a letter to Benjamin Webb in 1784 Franklin wrote “I do not pretend to give such a sum; I only lend it to you. When with another honest man in similar distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a knave that will stop its progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”

In his essay “Compensation” Emerson wrote: “In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.”

During the 1950’s the phrase “Pay it Forward” was popularised by Robert A Heinlein, initially by being referenced in his book “Between Planets.” Heinlein preached and practised this principle in his daily life and this led to the formation of the Heinlein society, a humanitarian organisation based on this principle.

In the year 2000 Catherine Ryan Hyde published the novel “Pay it Forward” which became a best seller and was soon made into a film by the same title. This led in time to the formation of the “Pay if Forward Foundation.” It even has its own day. Did you know that April 26th is “International Pay It Forward Day”. This is a day when millions of people intentionally commit to acts of kindness and caring.

Pay it forward is based on what is known today as the “ripple effect”, which has its roots in Confucius's concept of “Concentric Circles of Compassion”. Like a pebble dropped into a pond, our actions create ripples that go out and affect others beyond what we can imagine. It works on the premise that we can make our world a better place if we share, if we care as much for others as we do for ourselves. It is firmly grounded in the ethos of the “Golden Rule of Compassion” a concept found at the core of every single one of the world’s great religious traditions. It is an effort to change the world one small act at a time. Everything we do and everything we do not do really does matter. We affect our world, for good or for ill, by every thought, word and or deed.

One of the great movements for social good of the twentieth century is enshrined in the concept of “paying it forward”. Alcoholics Anonymous and the near two hundred other fellowships that have sprung from its principles have brought about recovery for millions of people from all manners of addiction. When a person is released from their destructive addiction they are not asked to pay back what was freely given to them, instead they are asked to pass on what has been given to others in desperate need and when doing so to also pass on that they do not have to pay back what has been given to them, instead they too must pass it forward. The principle of "Paying it Forward" is at the root of this simple movement that has saved millions of lives.

When I look back at my life it blows my mind to think of all the good that people have done for me. Two of those people I have remembered with tears of grief over the last week. One of course was Ethan who revealed God’s love to me and other was Enid Johnson whose funeral I conducted last Wednesday. Enid was a member at Cross Street Chapel when I began attending 10 years ago. Enid was one of the many people who welcomed me with open arms into the community and who also supported me when Ethan was killed, further she was another who supported me as I took the first tentative steps into ministry and I know her love and support has remained ever since. I cannot directly pay back Enid, Ethan or the countless other people who have helped me over the years, but then again I don’t have I just have to keep on “Paying It Forward”. I just need to keep on passing on to others what was so freely given to me.

It is easy to look at our world and despair and give up and say “what’s the point? Everyone is out for themselves. If I go out of my way to help another, they’ll just keep on taking advantage and what will I ever get back in return? It's easy to follow the selfish rule, “If tha gunna do owt for nowt, do fir thee sen”

I believe there is another way; I believe there is a better way. This other way is the purpose of the “Pay it Forward” movement. I like them believe that we can change our world, one act at a time. This is religion in its deepest and simplest form, binding up the broken manifesting God’s love in life. At its core is this life affirming principle that in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary faith, hope and love do in fact still remain. You see these ripples touch everybody both the giver and receiver and all who are eventually touched by them; both the giver and receiver are transformed by the experience; both giver and receiver are blessed abundantly.

I’d like you who read this to do something for me, “for thee sen”, for your world. I’d like you to remember all those times in your life when someone has gone out of their way to help you with no expectation of anything in return; whether they have helped you materially, intellectually, emotionally, or spirituality. I’d like you re-feel these occasions and to meditate on them and to come up with ways that you can pay these debts forward. I’d like you to think of ways that you can give back to your world; how you can create ripple effects that can impact in our shared world in ways we perhaps can’t even begin to dream of.

We can change our world today; it begins with thee and me. If you can’t do it for me, then "do it for thee sen."

I’d like to end this blog with this lovely tale by David J. Wolpe

"There is a marvelous story of a man who once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world. "Dear God." he cried out, "look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don't you send help?" God responded,"I did send help. I sent you." When we tell our children that story, we must tell them that each one of them was sent to help repair the broken world-and that it is not the task of an instant or of a year, but of a lifetime."

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