Thursday 23 July 2020

Liberty and Responsibility

This is the sixteenth piece of devotional worship (18th in total) that I have put together for sharing, during the shutting down of worship due to the Corona virus outbreak. I am posting it before Sunday. If you would like to share it with myself and the two congregations I serve, please feel free to do so. We will worship together but physically apart, either at 10am or 11.30am on Sunday 26h July. All you need is an open heart, mind, spirit and soul. A small candle will be helpful. All are most welcome. come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.

You can also enjoy a Zoom version of this service at 11am on Sunday 26th July. If you wish to access the service the code is as follows: Meeting ID: 841 9082 8195

This is a recurring meeting so it will be the same code each week and for all future events.

“Liberty and Responsibility”

I invite you to still yourself, to prepare yourselves for worship in this sacred time and space…Let us be still and invite a loving presence to be amongst us and to awaken within us…
Light Chalice
Welcome to this community of love.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations, and be inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to God, to the universe, to this community and to each other.
Let us begin our worship in the spirit of Love.
Hymn 174 Green Hymn Book “A Church is a Living Fellowship” Words Frank Clabburn Tune Lancaster 96. 96. By David Dawson

A church is a living fellowship
More than a holy shrine,
Where people can share their hopes and fears
Less of the yours and mine;

Where bonded by trust we search for Truth
Beyond the chains of creeds,
Anthought can aspire to shine with fire
From all our deepest needs.

Let’s stretch out the open hand of Love,
Conquer the fists of hate,
Divided no more by voices of war,
Greeds of our mindless state;
We’ll take all our building bricks of Truth,
Make of them homes of Life,
A future to face the shame and disgrace
In all our pasts of strife.

A church is a place of human trust
More than of brick and stone;
Of love we will sing to make it ring
In every joyous tone.

I invite you now to join together in a time of prayer...these word’s of prayer will be followed by the prayer that Jesus taught, the Lord’s prayer which I invite us to say together.

Let us pray
God of love, Divine Spirit of compassion be present here with us this day.
Help us to attune ourselves to the great mysteries of creation, to the wonder of the moment.
Awaken our senses to life itself, to what is both beautiful and holy...PAUSE...
Help us to experience your spirit as it flows through all of life
That is present in our hearts and souls and those of our brothers and sisters.
Help us to let down those barriers that separate us from one another and from our true being. Help us not to deny our weaknesses or to become enslaved by the fear of imperfection.
Bring us into harmony oh God show us how to be all that were born to be...PAUSE...
Deliver us from impatience, intolerance and most of all hate
Bring us to that place of compassionate self giving and self liberating love.
Show us the way oh us the way

Lords’s Prayer


The Selfish Crows. 

Once upon a time, there was a very big forest. There on a huge banyan tree lived many crows. They were selfish and arrogant. They always quarrelled with other birds. This behaviour irritated other birds. They had no friends, as no one liked them. 

When the rainy season came, dark clouds gathered 
in the sky. A small mynah was returning to her nest. When she was passing by the banyan tree, it started raining. “I will stay here for a while until it stops raining,” thought the little mynah. And I took rest on the banyan tree for a while. 

The selfish crows saw her perching on the tree. One of them shouted, “Get off the tree. This tree belongs to us.” The mynah humbly pleaded, “The weather is bad and my nest is far off from this forest. Please let me take a rest for a while on this tree, brother. As soon as it stops raining, I will return to my nest.” 

“Leave this banyan tree at once. Or we will peck you,” said the other crows. The merciless tendency of the selfish crows scared the mynah. The mynah found no other way except to fly off. Then immediately the mynah flew off to a nearby tree, where luckily she found a hollow in a broken branch. She took her shelter there. 

Shortly after, the rain became heavy followed by thunderstorm. The wind was in
high speed. Even the leaves and branches were not enough to give shelter to the crows. Many of the branches of many tree in which the crows had taken shelter were damaged and hurt by the hailstones. But the mynah was safe inside the hollow place in the tree. 

One of the crows said, “Look at the mynah! How comfortable she is. Let us go there.” Another crow said, “I do not think she will let us share the hollow. We did not have sympathy for her when she was in need of this tree.” Then another crow said, “We should not have been so rude. We forgot that we may need help someday.” 

Suddenly the mynah called out, “Come! My friends! Come to this hollow. Or you will get hurt. The rain is not going to stop soon. It seems that it may rain for a long time” 

The crows flew down to the hollow. They thanked the mynah. “We are sorry for being unkind, dear friend! Now we will never be so selfish.” 

Then the crows took shelter in the hollow place of the tree in which the mynah had taken her shelter. After some time, it stopped raining. All the birds flew to their respective nests happily as new friends. 

“Selfishness and Self-love” by Erich Fromm

Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite. Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.

Close observation shows that while the selfish person is always anxiously concerned with himself, he is never satisfied, is always restless, always driven by the fear of not getting enough, of missing something, of being deprived of something. He is filled with burning envy of anyone who might have more.

If we observe closer still, especially the unconscious dynamics, we find that this type of person is basically not fond of himself, but deeply dislikes himself.

Selfishness is rooted in this very lack of fondness for oneself. The person who is not fond of himself, who does not approve of himself, is in constant anxiety concerning his own self. He has not the inner security which can exist only on the basis of genuine fondness and affirmation. He must be concerned about himself, greedy to get everything for himself, since basically he lacks security and satisfaction.

The same holds true with the so-called narcissistic person, who is not so much concerned with getting things for himself as with admiring himself. While on the surface it seems that these persons are very much in love with themselves, they are actually not fond of themselves, and their narcissism - like selfishness - is an overcompensation for the basic lack of self-love.

Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.98-100

Hymn 99 (Green) “When Jesus Walked” words Martin Brown Shelton music Kingsfold C.M.D. Ralph Vaughan Williams
When Jesus walked upon the earth
He never talked with kings;
He talked with simple people
Of doing friendly things.
He never praised the conquerors
And all their hero host;
He said the very greatest were
The ones who loved the most.

His words were not of mighty deeds;
But many times he spoke
Of feeding hungry people
And cheering lonely folk.
I’m glad his words were simple words
Just meant for me and you;
The things he asked were simple things
That you and I can do.


From “Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society”
Manifesto for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence drafted by Thich Nhat Hanh and Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of
Peace and Nonviolence
"Because the year 2000 must be a new beginning, an opportunity to transform — all together — the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and nonviolence;
"Because this transformation demands the participation of each and every one of us, and must offer young people and future generations the values that can inspire them to shape a world based on justice, solidarity, liberty, dignity, harmony, and prosperity for all;
"Because the culture of peace can underpin sustainable development, environmental protection, and the well-being of each person;
"Because I am aware of my share of responsibility for the future of humanity, in particular to the children of today and tomorrow;
"I pledge in my daily life, in my family, my work, my community, my country, and my region, to:
"1) Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice.
"2) Practice active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economic, and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable such as children and adolescents.
"3) Share my time and material resources in a spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice, and political and economic oppression.
"4) Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, giving preference always to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanaticism, defamation, and the rejection of others.
"5) Promote consumer behavior that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet.
"6) Contribute to the development of my community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity."

James 2 vv 14-17
Faith without Works Is Dead
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[e] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.


Hymn  140 (Green) The Love of God is Broader” words Frederick William Faber Music St Oswald 87.87, John Bacchus Dykes

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice
Which is more than liberty.

If we render love too narrow
With false limits of our own,
Then we magnify the strictness
With a zeal God will not own.

For the love of god is broader
Than the measures of our mind,
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.


Blackbirds by Julie Cadwallader-Staub

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air
and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn’t know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.
How do they do that?
Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be
but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,
we can think to ourselves:
ah yes, this is how it’s meant to be.

Nasruddin was once engaged in a spiritual conversation with a Buddhist monk. The monk told Nasrduddin:

“I have achieved an incredible level of disattachment from myself—so much so that I only think of others, and never of myself.”

Now Nasrudin paused for a while and then he replied:

“Well, I have reached a more advanced state than that.”

The Monk a little surprised by the Holy Fools response asked:

“How so?”

To which Nasrudin answered:

“I am so objective that I can actually look at another person as if he were me, and by doing so, I can think of myself!“

An interesting take on the “Golden Rule”, maybe? Maybe not?

Now is Nasruddin engaging in Narcissism, in self-absorption, self-obsession here? Is it all about him? Is he displaying selfishness? Or is he unearthing an interesting truth, something that we can often miss?

As most folk know I have been inspired for many years by the teachings of Viktor Frankl. I keep on returning to “Man’s Search for Meaning”. I recently read a series of his lectures delivered before he wrote his seminal work and after his liberation from Auschwitz. These have only recently been published in book form under the title “Yes To Life: In Spite of Everything”. Frankl’s approach to life has helped me once more in recent weeks as meaning has emerged in our collective suffering and thus helped me transcend feelings of despair. It is so easy to be tempted by despair when surround by such suffering. So thank you Dr Frankl for continuing to speak to me, many years after you have gone. You have kept me keeping on that search for meaning, despite the suffering, you have kept me living meaningfully while being a part of our shared suffering.
Frankl was a great believer in the individual finding their own meaning in life, that this was in many ways the ultimate freedom and that it could not be prescribed for us. He was of the existential school, although not within the mainstream of such thought. Yes, he did not believe that there was one metta narrative, but that did not mean that there was not meaning, or that we could not unearth the ultimate meaning, so in this sense he was different from classic existentialism.
Now while he believed it was our ultimate freedom to find this meaning, he did see dangers in our lives being dominated by this search. Frankl warned that freedom threatens to degenerate into mere license and arbitrariness unless it is lived responsibly. He admired much about the USA but was never shy about criticizing the popular understanding of some cherished American values, such as the notion of freedom being humanity’s ultimate search. He took exception, for instance, to what appeared to be a commonly accepted view of equating freedom with a license to do virtually anything one wants. To Frankl, freedom without responsibility was an oxymoron. That is why he suggested that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of America in New York Harbour ought to be supplemented by a “Statue of Responsibility” somewhere along the West Coast.
As he said:
“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”1
I recall discussing this idea of building a Statue of Responsibility to compliment the “Statue of Liberty” with a friend a couple of years and it has come back into my thinking recently, especially as talk of statues and the removal of controversial ones and replacing them with other figures has been suggested. Figures who it is suggested better reflect our current values. Then again this week I was discussing Frankl with another friend. I suggested that if he was ever to read one book in his life that it ought to be “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He told me that he wasn’t sure that could. I suspect that he felt that it might be too upsetting due to its subject matter. He then said “didn’t Frankl want to replace the “Statue of Liberty” with the “Statue of Responsibility”, I explained that this was a common misconception, that in fact what he actually suggested was that liberty needed to complimented with responsibility. That freedom requires responsibility. I then rather naughtily bought my friend a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning” and sent it to his address. He has the freedom of course to not read it. I just decided to take the responsibility of purchasing it for him.
I believe that a “Statue of Responsibility” would serve, among other things, as an important reminder to humanity, particularly those of us in living in liberal democracies of what is required to safeguard true freedom and a democratic way of life. It would also be a celebration of the great man’s work and his contribution to humanity. It might encourage folk to explore his ideas, that are as needed today as they have ever been, as liberalism and particularly liberal democracy seems to be under threat in our ever more divisive times. I also believe that it would be an antidote to so much of today’s cynicism too. Remember that he is ideas were developed in the Nazi death camps and yet he still maintained a hopeful view of humanity. As he often quoted, a true realist must be an idealist, in order to believe in the capacity to raise humanity to its best possibility.
Now of course any statues are merely a symbol, they are not the history themselves. That said “A Statue of Responsibility” would hopefully lead folk to want to explore and learn more. Frankl is as needed now, in our times and space as he ever was. I know how much he has helped me, once again, in recent months. Not just to help me personally by the way, but to better live in this our shared world and then as a consequence meaning has emerged in my life and thus saved me from feelings of despair. The meaning though emerged from living meaningfully.
Maybe I’m just a dreamer, but I suspect I am not the only one.
Well it seems that I am not the only one, indeed there are many other folk who have also seen this need. I came across an article the other day that described a non-profit foundation whose purpose is to advance Frankl’s idea with the goal of completing the “Statue of Responsibility”. Apparently, the plan is to build a 300 foot monument complete with a large event venue and campus in a major city somewhere on the West Coast of the USA by 2023. A model of the proposed “Statue of Responsibility”, consisting of a pair of clasped hands oriented vertically, has been sculptured by Gary Lee Price. The model and associated renderings are being used to raise awareness of the initiative and help raise private funds for the project. I recommend you look into it, hey maybe we ought to explore something similar in this country. It could perhaps be a symbol of healing in these sadly divisive times. A statue dedicate to an idea, a way of being rather than a specific individual. I’m not sure we should make idols out of people in particular more ideals and principles. I’m not sure we should ever worship people, as we are all made of flesh, none of us are perfect.
Just to remember that Frankl was not against liberty, quite the opposite, he did not want to replace the Statue of Liberty. No, what he wanted to do instead was to compliment it with he wanted it to be complimented by a Statue of Responsibility. Who on earth would be against freedom or liberty? We all want freedom of course we do. That said we also want to feel that we belong and are accepted as we are. Sadly, for many folk throughout history, this has not always been the case.  It has also been the case the that some have abused their freedom in the exploitation of others. For any society micro or macro, including a free religious community, to be truly free and also functioning it cannot be based purely around liberty and liberty alone, where a person can act in anyway they like without any though or consideration for others. That doesn’t sound like freedom it sounds more like adolescence. As a friend of mine’s meme, posted as I was writing this sermon stated, “Insisting on your rights without acknowledging your responsibilities isn’t freedom, it’s adolescence.” This seems particularly pertinent in this our time as we are attempting to live our lives while under the threat of this virus. We are being asked to sacrifice many aspects of our freedom for the good of others, particularly the more vulnerable in society. Everyone one of us, to some degree, wants to resist but most of us accept this responsibility for the greater good. Some of course sadly do not, they will accept no infringement upon what they see as their individual freedom.
This is not unique by the way, it is how every society functions. To truly be free most reasonable folk accept that liberty requires responsibility, for to be free requires one to be responsible for their own action and truth. We are essentially free but only to the extent that our freedom does not impinge on the liberty of another.
Now the Unitarian tradition claims to be both free and inquiring. No one compels another to believe or disbelieve as they do, it is down to the conscience of the individual. Some say we can believe what we like, although this is not entirely true, we believe what our conscience compels us to believe. It is just that no tells an individual what we must believe in order to congregate together. Some criticise our tradition for this, they claim that there is nothing to us, no depth and meaning. This is wonderfully portrayed in an old episode of the Simpson’s, created by the Unitarian Matt Groening, when ice cream representing the different church traditions is being sold at a fair. When they get the Unitarian tub it is found to be empty, at which rev Lovejoy explains, that “this is because there is nothing in it.” Our tradition has been criticised because some say that there is nothing really in it. It is suggested that our freedom to inquire has become arbitrary, that we have fallen into Frankl’s trap. What about our responsibility to one another and the world?
Well I would answer this by saying that it is our respect for freedom and liberty for all that informs our love and respect for each individual and that informs our love for life itself and it is this inspires us to act in the world. Many of our old places of worship were dedicated to the Worship of God and the Service of Man. Responsibility, as much as liberty, has always been central to the Unitarian tradition. Our faith tradition has never been about merely serving ourselves, and this has always shown in love and respect for life, it has always shown in our deeds. As we so famously used to say “deeds not creeds”  At its core the Unitarian tradition has been more about how the individual faithfully lives their life than arguments about belief and disbelief. For faith and belief means nothing if it is not lived out in our ordinary everyday lives.
Or to put it another way "Faith without works is dead."

“Faith without works is dead” These words from the book of James chapter 2 vv 14-17 have for many years struck me powerfully. Of course, like most folk, I have never been able to live up fully to this ideal. I wonder how many times I have professed belief or even disbelief in something, but my actions have shown otherwise; while today I profess a belief in God and humanity sometimes my actions prove otherwise. I fall short every day. That said, as best as I can. I profess a belief in liberty and responsibility but I sometimes wonder if I always live up to this cherished ideal.

As I look at the current culture arguments going on in this country and all over the world as well as arguments about how we should be acting with regards to health and well being in the midst of this pandemic I see once again that these are arguments about liberty and responsibility. People do not agree, so what is the best course of action? It is not a simple answer, it is complex, there are many shades of grey and colours of the rainbow. A simple cut and dry answer is hard to find, but we must try and seek, speak our truth and learn to listen, to express our liberty and responsibility or society will fail to function and then no one will have freedom. Never forgetting the ultimate liberty, the freedom to live and no one’s individual liberty should surely have trumps over this. Then again there are many and varied threats to this. Even this is not a simple conversation.

Whatever it is that we claim to believe in, or not believe in for that matter, it can only be proved by our actions. So I for one will attempt to express my liberty to follow my conscience and to act responsibly not merely for my own well-being, but for the well-being of all. I am also continuing to give what I can in response to the need of others. What I can give is in spiritual sustenance, others serve in other ways. This is my work and my responsibility. This is where I find my meaning, my ultimate freedom, even in this very real suffering. This is my service to all.

Service is the often understood as the works spoken in the Book of James. But what exactly is service? Well it can mean many things. I have come to believe that worship itself is a form of service. I do afterall call what I lead on a Sunday morning a service of worship. When people come together as a worshipping community they are doing so in service; service to themselves, to one another, to God and to humanity. Even if they cannot physically be together as we cannot, they can do so in heart, mind, spirit and soul, as we continue to do so. This is a chosen act, one of liberty, but it is more than that it is also one of responsibility, for our own needs but also for the needs of others.

Worship is central to any spiritual community, but its purpose is to impact on the lives of those participating in it so that they can impact positively on the lives of those in the wider world. While we may not be able to change the whole world we can affect it in small and I believe positive ways. I strongly believe by being all that we can be in the world we do indeed change our world while not at the same time destroying it by imposing our wants upon it. By doing so we grow in spirit ourselves and we pave the way for others to do the same.

What do our actions say about us? Do we show love for God and humanity in the way we live our lives?

Sometimes I fall short. I take responsibility for this and thus have the liberty to attempt to aim ever higher. It is the acceptance of responsibility that enables one to know liberty.
I suspect that liberty is truly obtained, freedom found, not in the search for it but in and through service for a great good, a greater reality through love and service, through becoming responsible. As Frankl taught we do not find meaning or fulfilment in our lives by seeking it, just for the sake of liberty itself, in a self-centred ways, but rather by getting outside ourselves and relating ourselves, committing ourselves, to larger, transcending purposes. Oppositely, mere freedom from bonds, being on our own, at liberty to do as we please (by ourselves), far from being welcome and satisfying as individualist ideology generally assumes, is often alienating and frightening and thus provokes us to want to 'escape' the very freedom we thought was our heart's desire."
So I’m with Frankl I believe in freedom in liberty, in celebrating both, but I am also in favour of responsibility, not only for ourselves as individuals but for society as a whole, for this is faithful living, it is an expression of the love for life, for humanity, for God. Do we need to build monuments to this? Probably not. What we really need to do is to become living breathing monuments to liberty and responsibility.


Final Hymn
198 (Green) “The healing of the Nations” words Kent Kaan Tune Cwm Rhondda music John Hughes

For the healing of the nations,
God, we pray with one accord;
For a just and equal sharing
Of the things that earth affords.
To a life of life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word,
Help us rise and pledge our word.

Led us ever into freedom,
From despair your world release;
That, redeemed from war and hatred,
All may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
Fear will die and hope increase,
Fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
Let it from the earth depart;
Pride of status, race or schooling,
Dogmas keeping us apart.
May our common quest for justice
Be our brief life’s hallowed art,
Be our brief life’s hallowed art.


Go now in peace. 
Deeply regard each other. 
Truly listen to each other. 
Speak what each of you must speak. 
Be ready in any moment to disarm your own heart, 
and always live as if a realm of love had begun.

And may the blessings of God be with us in all that we feel and all that we think say and all that we do.


Friday 17 July 2020

Answering the Call to Care

This is the fifteenth piece of devotional worship (17th in total) that I have put together for sharing, during the shutting down of worship due to the Corona virus outbreak. I am posting it before Sunday. If you would like to share it with myself and the two congregations I serve, please feel free to do so. We will worship together but physically apart, either at 10am or 11.30am on Sunday 5th July. All you need is an open heart, mind, spirit and soul. A small candle will be helpful. All are most welcome. come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.

You can also enjoy a Zoom version of this service at 11am on Sunday 19th July. If you wish to access the service the code is as follows: Meeting ID: 841 9082 8195

This is a recurring meeting so it will be the same code each week and for all future

“Answering the Call to Care”
Let us still ourselves in silence and invite a loving presence to here amongst us and to awaken from deep within us.
Light Chalice
Welcome to this community of love.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations, and be inspired to bring our gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings but connected, in mystery and miracle, to the universe, to this community and to each other.
Let us begin our worship in the spirit of Love.
Hymn 196 (Purple) “We sing the faith” words Andrew Hill tune Woodlands 10. 10. 10. 10 by Walter Greatorex
We sing the faith, which gives us confidence
for human dwelling in the vast immense
and finding there within the great unknown
that there’s a cosmic law and order shown.

We sing the hope, which shows us there are ways
for living through our very darkest days
and glimpse beyond a path which leads us on
to find the place where new days have begun.

We sing the love, which is creation’s law,
and in a single whole its parts will draw;
and since parts turn and swerve, collide and move,
forgiveness is the final form of love.

Faith, hope and love, we honour each and three
but there’s one virtue which we all agree
stands out among the others far above
and the ‘greatest of the three is love’.

I invite you now to join together in a time of prayer...these word’s of prayer will be followed by the prayer that Jesus taught, the Lord’s prayer.

Let us pray
God of love, Divine Spirit of compassion be present here with us this day.
Help us to attune ourselves to the great mysteries of creation, to the wonder of the moment.
Awaken our senses to life itself, to what is both beautiful and holy.
Help us to experience your spirit as it flows through all of life
That is present in our hearts and souls and those of our brothers and sisters.
Help us to let down those barriers that separate us from one another and from our true being. Help us not to deny our weaknesses or to become enslaved by the fear of imperfection.
Bring us into harmony oh God show us how to be all that were born to be.
Deliver us from impatience, intolerance and most of all hate
Bring us to that place of compassionate self giving and self liberating love.
Show us the way oh us the way

Lord’s Prayer


Once upon a time...long long 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.

From “Caring and Commitment: Learning to Live the Love We Promise” by Lewis B. Smedes
I am not a hopeful person by nature. When things get tough I am easily tempted to believe that the jig is up. I foreclose on the future all too soon. If my team is not ahead by at least two touchdown in the final five minutes of play, I hear defeat blowing in the winds. In my marriage I have often had to be rescued from my own pessimism by Doris's power to hope that there were good possibilities within the worst of our problems. I sometimes suspected that she was denying reality. But she was not denying: she really saw possibilities to which my despair had blinded me.
"Out of my private struggles with despair, I have come to see that hope is the final secret of all commitment.
"When two people are committed to each other, when the innerspring of their commitment is care, each for the other, there are possibilities in the toughest situations. Not certainties. But possibilities. Not possibilities of things being all we've ever wanted them to be. But possibilities of things becoming better than they are. Good enough to make the future together, as friends, as partners, as family, better for having kept on caring for each other just a little more than we care for ourselves.
"In sum, what I've been saying here is that commitments live on hope. Not on duty, not on what we are obligated to do, but on hope for what we can do. And for what others can do for us. Hope is the alternative to the seductions of the uncommitted life.
"Hope is energy.
"Hope is energy to cope when life gets tough. And, when you get down to brass tacks, it is the energy we need for commitment keeping in a world where somebody, at any moment, may rain on your parade."

Hymn 116 (Green) “Praise, My Soul”
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,
To his feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Evermore his praises sing:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise him for his grace and favour
To our forbears in distress;
Praise him still the same for ever,
Slow to chide and swift to bless:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Glorious in his faithfulness.
Tenderly, he guides and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows;
In his hands he gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes:
Alleluia, Alleluis!
Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels in the height, adore him;
Ye behold him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before him,
Dwellers all in time and space;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

Mark Ch 8 vv 1-9
8In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.’ 4His disciples replied, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?’ 5He asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ 6Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed.8They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 

From “The Caregiver's Tao Te Ching: Compassionate Caring for Your Loved Ones and Yourself” by Nancy Martin and William Martin
We Are Good
Not trying to be good,
we are free to truly care.
When we try to be good,
our caring loses power.
We work harder
and accomplish less.

Trying to be good
is a pale imitation of caring.
It blooms like a flower for a moment,
but it fades soon after blooming.
Our caregiving is the fruit at the center of life,
not the flower.
We don't have to try to be good.
We are good.
"We all have a natural desire to express goodness. In childhood, this innate goodness became overlaid with definitions and meanings as we experienced the approval and disapproval of those around us. Many of us were taught that if we were not careful we would end up being 'bad.'
"Whether we are working as caregiving professionals or serving members of our family, it is not unusual for us to feel the grip of this conditioning. If we are not aware of it, our work becomes much more difficult. We try hard to please and end up frustrated, discouraged, or rebellious when we don't get the response we expect.
"Trusting our inherent goodness, we act naturally out of our compassion and wisdom. There is no need to weigh and judge what we will do or how others react. We do not need to try to be good. Goodness came to us at our first breath."



Hymn 97 (Purple) “Love knocks and waits for us to hear” words and music by Daniel Charles Damon Tune Angels Camp C.M.

Love knocks and waits for us to hear,
to open and invite;
love longs to quiet every fear,
and seeks to set things right.

Love offers life, in spite of foes
who threaten and condemn;
embracing enemies, love goes
the second mile with them.

Love comes to heal the broken heart,
to ease the troubled mind;
without a word love bids to start
to ask to seek and find.

Love knocks and enters at the sound
of welcome from within;
love sings and dances all around,
and feels new life begin.


From “Walking in Light: The Everyday Empowerment of a Shamanic Life” by Sandra Ingerman
Creating a Prayer Tree
"Here is a wonderful tradition you can share to bring your community together. You can create a prayer tree for loved ones, coworkers, and community to tie prayer ribbons on the branches to support each other's prayers. It is something that you can create in your house, at work, and in your community. This tradition is seen in many different countries. I first learned about it as a Siberian tradition, where it is common to find a prayer tree. In Siberia trees are seen as the most sacred beings because they bridge heaven and earth. They bridge heaven through their branches and the earth through their roots. As humans we bridge heaven and earth with our arms up to heaven and our feet planted on the earth. We create that bridge through our hearts.
"Juniper trees are typically used for a Siberian prayer tree. The shaman divines the appropriate tree. After the right tree is found, there are days of ceremony performed where traditional food and drink offerings are left by the tree. The tree is honored for volunteering to carry prayers to the creative forces of the universe. The shaman in the community chants and gives thanks to the helping spirits for carrying the prayers of the people up to the universe so that their dreams can manifest on Earth. The ribbons tied on to the tree are empowered by individuals in the community with personal prayers for themselves, for loved ones, for family, and the community.
"You can see these trees throughout Siberia with brightly colored large ribbons tied on branches. I saw a photo of a prayer tree in Siberia where there were so many ribbons and pieces of fabric on the tree, the branches started touching the ground. The branches had become so heavy from all the ribbons empowered with the prayers of those who made pilgrimages to the tree. An important teaching is to tie the ribbons loosely onto the branches so their growth is not choked off or stunned."


I’ve had a quite a busy first week back, after a few days off on leave. Now some of that was my own doing, as I have been trying to offer more and more on Zoom, maybe trying to do too much. Three groups hosted this week, including “Living the Questions” for the first time on Zoom. I have also conducted two funerals. The first was Gordon Rees, the brother of John Rees a much loved long time member at Queens Road and the second Richard Kirkwood, a beloved member of Dunham Road. It is hard to minister as I would normally do during these times of physical separation. How do we care for one another, when we have to stay physically apart? How do we show love and compassion in new ways? It is not easy and goes against so many of our natural love and compassion. How do we care for one another now? How do we care for one another in the future? Some folk are saying we will never go back to how we once showed our love and compassion, that we will lose something of our humankindness due to our physical separateness. I for one do not believe this. This did not happen in the past, after other pandemics and I do not believe it will happen in the future. The future of course begins now and the question this brings for me is how do we offer care now?
I am particularly concerned about our care homes. There has been a great deal of loss of life and suffering within them these last few months. Much needs to be done to address this. Families have been unable to be with their loved ones when they have needed them the most, this has led to a great deal of mental, emotional and spiritual deterioration, something that needs to be addressed in as safe a way as possible while we still live with this deadly virus. How do we care for our loved ones, for those who need physical interaction while not putting each other’s lives in danger? There are no simple solutions. I know how comforting it was for two of Richard’s children that they were able to be with him as he took his final breaths, sadly one was not able to get there on time. So many other families have had to remain apart though these last few months. I know how much this has intensified grief. Hard times!
My hope is that as we move forward that this will bring about change in how we care for one another. In many ways people have begun to see how much our lives depend on one another. How we act towards one another really matters. Now of course the physical separation may lead to a fear of the other, but then again it may lead to this sense that we need to find ways to care for one another, not just our nearest and dearest, but the whole of humanity. As a global society we have acted together to try and contain this deadly virus, so why can’t we do the same to solve the other problems that we as one humanity face, poverty, climate change, prejudice and violence of all kinds. We are one human family; surely no one can doubt this anymore. Sadly some still do.
We need to find new ways to care, to love one another and it needs to begin now.
Earlier we shared one of my favourite stories, “Heaven and Hell”. In the story both appear to be 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.
An interesting aspect of the story is how they overcome the handicap of the length of spoons and their distance from one another and the food. Maybe in the tale there is a lesson in how we learn to care for one another despite being physically apart. Ok we cannot hug and hold, but we can love, feed and care for one another in other ways. Maybe by using our imaginations and finding new ways to care and feed one another we can begin to create that kin-dom of love, Heaven here on earth.
I was in Marks and Spencer’s on Tuesday, buying food for the day as I worked from the vestry. There I was masked up when in front of me was Angela and her carer both in their masks. It was the first time Angela had been in Marks and Spencer’s since lock down and it was a delight for all three of us to communicate and offer our love and care, it lifted my heart. A love I shared with several people I spoke on the phone that day. One of whom, Sue Roberts, shared some memories of Richard with me. Just reminding me of want a genuinely loving human being he was. How he made everyone you feel welcome as you were, exactly as you were. That he was truly “the salt of the earth”, a person of great kindness, reliability and honesty.” She told me of a time when she was new to the congregation and left chapel upset one day, she was grieving the loss of her father. She told me that May and Richard took her to one side and said “Look Sue, what you have to remember is that you are amongst friends and they care about you and will do anything they can to help you.” She remembered these words exactly as they were said, even though they were uttered 40 years ago. Words of love, words of care, words of people living out their faith. They cared and it showed through their lives. They fed those they met and in feeding they too were fed.
There are several slightly different accounts in the Gospels of Jesus feeding crowds of people. Some 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 stories. “Mythos” is not about fact; it is about revealing deeper universal truth. The key phrase in this account from Mark (Ch 8 vv 1-9) are the words “They ate and were filled”. In the account Jesus cares for the crowd, he recognises their hunger and shares a meal with them The crowd eat and are filled, because their hunger is recognised and met in the encounter of feeding face to face, in the beautiful human encounter. They are cared for and they are loved.
Now of course this is perhaps not easy to do now, but we can find ways to get around it. We cannot wish the virus away, but we can find ways to care for one another right here, right now and find new ways to address the many needs in this our shared world. Now is the time to get creative, to meet the needs of our shared world and our shared humanity.
I recently discovered the following poem “Becoming Bread” by Gunilla Norris. It is wonderful.
"Becoming Bread" by Gunilla Norris
"Be careful with the crumbs.
Do not overlook them.
"Be careful with the crumbs:
the little chances to love,
"the tiny gestures, the morsels
that feed, the minims.
"Take care of the crumbs:
a look, a laugh, a smile,
"a teardrop, an open hand. Take care
of the crumbs. They are food also.
"Do not let them fall.
Gather them. Cherish them.

Isn’t it just beautiful? I certainly think so. Maybe here is a way to begin to care. I don’t just mean by picking up the pieces when this is all over, but to begin right now. We can’t feed as abundantly as we would like to, not even now as we are spending a little more time together. We cannot attend to all of societies needs, but we can do something we can be careful with the crumbs, with the tiny morsels that we are left with. We do not have to overlook them; they are precious in themselves. Ok we cannot go up to a person and give them a big hug, but we can offer a tiny gesture, a morsel that can feed. We offer kindness and care in the tiny little gestures, a look, a laugh and a smile. Both myself and Angela and her carer were able to do so from behind our masks in Marks and Spencer’s and it meant so much. Just as the conversation I had with Sue as she shared precious memories of Richard and May with me and how their simple loving care was feeding her some forty years later. Just as the tender love shared by Richard’s family on Zoom touched me deeply, even though it was through a screen. Yes, ok it wasn’t a full meal, not what we are used to, but the living intention behind it was deep and meaningful. Just as the love we share in times of desolation can mean so much, perhaps even more as it is rationed at this time.
Maybe we will see just how precious this all is as we move forward; maybe the sparseness of physical affection will show to us just how precious our lives and interactions are; maybe this will bring about respair, this fresh and new hope; maybe we can begin to offer deeper care in new and wonderful ways, I for one believe that it can. It is up to us. We have already been doing it. I have seen it from the very beginning of this pandemic. Whether it was in  the rituals of celebration or sorrow as we paid homage to our shared suffering; whether that has been footballers taking the knee in support of “Black Lives Matter”, children decorating their homes with rainbows, the clapping for healthcare workers and how vital they are to our lives. Or in the many ways that people have been trying to keep one another connected. In the ways that community support groups and places of worship are finding to offer worship and other activities. I know my ministry will never be the same again.
It has all filled me with deep hope, hope in our human capacity to care, even in the time of crisis. I just hope that this spurs us on to take care of the needs of all our world. For it depends on our care for one another and for the whole of life.
It is in our hands. We must offer the care and we must learn to find new ways to share.
So annoyingly I going to leave you with some homework this week. I want you to go away and look around you; look for where care is needed in your own lives, in your families, your communities, the wider world. What needs care, what care can we offer? Instead of getting depressed about what we cannot do at this time, instead let’s look for what we can do, what ways we can offer care. For in so doing we will begin to feed one another, and we will all eat and we will all be filled.


Final Hymn 90 (Purple) “Let us give thanks and praise” words Peter Sampson Tune Ralph Vaughan Williams
Let us give thanks and praise for the gists which we share,
for the food and our friendship, for water and air,
for the earth and the sky and the stars and the sea,
and the trust we all have in God’s love flowing free.

Give a shout of amazement at what life can bring,
put your heart into raising the song all can sing.
What a world we could build with our minds and our hands
where the people live freely and God understands.

Let us give of our best with the tools we shall need,
use our eyes, hands and brains so that we may succeed.
Inspire us to cultivate what we have sown
so that nature and nurture make a world we may own.

We adore you great Mother, O help us to live
with a love for each other that each one can give
let the pain of our brothers and sisters be faced
and the healing of all souls on earth be embraced.


Go now in peace. 
Deeply regard each other. 
Truly listen to each other. 
Speak what each of you must speak. 
Be ready in any moment to disarm your own heart, 
and always live as if a realm of love had begun.

And may the blessings of God be with us in all that we feel and all that we think say and all that we do.