Monday 27 September 2021

All we need is here

As I was leaving for home late on Monday night a friend messaged me the following “Harvest Moon Tonight”. So I thought I would look out for it. There it was illuminating the night sky. I messaged another friend, who is a bit of a lunar enthusiast, to ask if she had seen it, she hadn’t. She was a bit caught up in a few personal troubles. I enjoyed the moon as I drove home, it gave me a sense of reassurance, as well as connection to others who noticed and did not notice it too. I felt blessed by the light of the harvest moon.

I have been reflecting on friends and friendships these last few weeks. As most folks know I’ve just celebrated a big birthday. I have received so many wonderful messages and shared memories with friends I have known over the years. It has been a rich harvest indeed this year, one of memory and friendship. It means so much.

So often in life we do not see what we have. It is so easy to just wander on not offering thanks and praise for the simple things we have. Sometimes we only really recognise it when perhaps what we have is under threat or our eyes are opened by the struggles of another. So often it is easy to turn away to avert our eyes to the suffering of others; to get lost in the things that we think that we lack, when truth be told if we took stock we would noticed a bounteous harvest both within us and all around us. A harvest not only for ourselves, but one to share.

This failing to notice what we have brings to mind a story I once heard. It came to mind as I passed several homeless people in the town of Altrincham. Homelessness is a growing problem in this our time and space.

A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said : ' I am blind, please help.' There were only a few coins in the hat.

A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words.

Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write? "

The man said, " I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way."

I wrote : ' Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it.'

Both signs told people that the boy was blind. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign told people that they were so lucky that they were not blind. It is no surprise that the second sign was more effective.

We do not always notice what we have. The blessings we have been given, until we see that another no long possesses the gift that is ours. We should offer thanks for the things we have and use them in creative and positive ways for the good of all. A good and useful life is one in which we count our blessings, one in which we enjoy our days with a heart of gratitude. Gratitude though is not merely saying thank you, although it does begin there, it is offering something with what we have been given, not just for ourselves but for others too.

One of the great sadnesses of life is that we don’t always see what is within us. We do not recognise and harvest our gifts, and share them with others. Too many people believe that they have so little to offer. Too often we look to others to fulfil our needs, failing to recognise what is within us. For what we need is here already within us. “What we need is here” as Wendell berry so beautiful observed in his poem “The Wild Geese”, which I offer to you

“The Wild Geese” By Wendell Berry

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

What we need is here. Within each of us, within life, within community. Wendell Berry is so right. Too often we think what we need is over there, in some distant place, some other place, some Heaven, some Nirvana, some Ithaka, some Promised land of milk and honey. Too often we fail to see what is within us, that what we need is here.

What we need is here; what we need to do is learn to trust and draw upon the abundance within us and between us. Is there really not enough? Is there a scarcity crisis? Or is that we are just failing to use what is already here and to share it properly. What we need is here. We need to learn how to tap into the endless resources within ourselves and humanity as a whole, there is an abundance in life and within each of us. The problem is that we waste it or fail to truly recognise what is here.

It begins within ourselves. We need to recognise what is within us, to reap the harvest and to share it where it is needed, thus encouraging others to do the same. Now whether the problem is material, social, emotional, mental or spiritual. The solution is here, “what we need is here”. The key is to reap the harvest and to keep on sowing and encouraging others to do likewise.

Too often we fail to recognise what is within us. We act and believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that we have nothing to offer. Gosh what the world needs is people who are awake to what is within them and who are willing to share in their abundance. All that we need is within us. Not just us alone though, but within our relationships, our friendships, our communities, this our shared world. The tricky part is finding a way to harvest this. As Wendell Berry so beautifully put it, we do not need to wait for a “new earth or heaven” in order to live by the truth that what we need is here. All we need is “to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear.” Then we will see and gain access to the resources within and between us, and we will reap the abundant harvest both for ourselves, our communities and human society. We can share in the amazing abundance of self and community.

The last eighteen months have been difficult for everyone. It has been a time of great loss. There has been the deep loss of people, the painful grief that comes when we lose someone we love, many of us have experienced this awful pain. There has also been the loss of the quality of our lives and security also. Hard times.

It has not all been about loss. I have seen and experienced other deeper connections in recent weeks, particularly the richness of the people in my life. I have also reexperienced so much else from my life. I have in recent days begun to reap harvest from the past. Some of which has come from seeds sown long ago. Maybe this is what Autumn is truly about, this season that we have just entered.

John O’Donohue compared autumn to old age. He suggested that, “the autumn of our lives,” is the time when we harvest the lessons from our lives. It is a time to gather all the moments of our lives, even the ones that have been seemingly lost or even discarded as unpleasant and “holding them as one.” O’Donohue also suggested that the autumn of our lives is the time to harvest our souls wholly so as to reach a deeper understanding. He did not see the soul as being some kind of invisible organ within us more as a presence enfolding our bodies. He suggested that life’s autumn is a time to explore our souls, so as to develop new strength, poise and confidence and therefore enter a ‘quiet delight’ as we harvest our own lives.

O’Donohue was not suggesting that these new understandings just come instantly at this time, without effort. Labour is required just as labour is required to bring in the crops at harvest time. Nor are they merely yielded from the present time, they are built on years of experiences of the ploughing and planting of life. They are the crops of success and failure of year after year and the lessons learnt.

This though does not have to only occur at the end of our lives, it can happen at any time. If we are willing to reap the harvest of what is already within us; if we are willing to recognise that “what we need is here”. We just need to reap the inner harvest of our lives and to share it with one another. How do we do this? Well by giving our time and attention. This is the greatest gift you can give another. John O’Donohue said that this is the final understanding that comes from the soul’s harvest. This understanding that the rhythm of the seasons, the rhythm of time itself, is part of the wisdom that we learn. We need to learn to become a part of that and then respond to the need that is here. Like the man who helped the blind boy.

“All we need is here” we just need to find a way to harvest it and learn to share it with one another. How do we do this? Well by simply giving each other our time, by blessing each other with our holy presence.

This harvest I am offering thanks and praise for the life of my friends the people I have known the rich harvests they have shared with me. I offer thanks and praise for all the lives I have known and all that they have given to me and countless others, the wisdom that they shared. I offer thanks and praise for all that has been so freely given and I hope I can make the most of it and pass it on to those who follow.

“All we need is here” we just need to find a way to harvest it and learn to share it with one another.

Harvest is a time to offer thanks for all that has been given us. To do so we need to see what has been given to us. It is so easy to see what we do not have and therefore fail to see the gifts that we are surrounded by, gifts that are there for all of us to share in, gifts that are so freely given. “All we need is here” we just need to find a way to harvest it and learn to share it with one another

“All we need is here” Let us offer thanks and praise for what is here. Let us reap the abundant harvest and share the gifts we have been given. In so doing we will bless life with our holy presence and it will bless us in return.

Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "Blogspot"


Monday 20 September 2021

Eye of the Beholder: It's How You See Things

The current “Wayside Pulpit” at Dunham Road reads “Beauty exists not in what is seen and remembered, but in what is felt and never forgotten” by Jonathan Jena. I have no memory of when or where I discovered this quotation, but the feeling it brought on has stayed with me.

Over the last few weeks I have made friends with a rather sorry looking magpie in the chapel gardens at Dunham Road. There is actually a pair, sometimes three or four, who are regular attenders, so to speak. The others are plump and healthy looking, your typical magpies. My friend is not. It appears malnourished and its feathers look greasy and not attractive in the least. And yet it is this one that has been catching my attention; this is the one I have developed a fondness, dare I say a love for. I have identified with it. I have felt a little like that magpie myself as I have been licking a few personal wounds. So, we have become friends. Well, the magpie obviously doesn’t know this, but I do. It has no idea how much it delights me by just being its magpie self. It has also helped me with pastoral counselling as I have spoken with folk while sitting on the new benches there. I always point it out to folk, and we often weave stories about what its life might have been. It just carries on being a magpie, unaware, no doubt, that it is anything other than a magpie.

I was out walking by the canal the other day and noticed something else that caught my attention. It was three mallard ducks in a line. A male, a female and another one that had some of the male plumage and some of the female. It was swimming behind the other two. It made me pause and wonder as I tried to look closer. I should have taken a picture, but was too slow. It is the same with the magpies by the way. It did get me wondering about gender and ducks. I looked into it and apparently ducks, and other birds, can change gender. They can only go from being female to male and this is due to some form of disease when young. So over time they transform from female to male. This must have been happening to the third duck in the row on the canal. It is funny what you see from time to time, what your vision can open up to.

Things in life are not always as they appear on the surface. Once you see something for the first time it is never quite the same again. You cannot go back to that place of pure ignorance. You can live in denial, but you can’t unsee something. This is always humbling and in so doing it can open you up to new experiences and clearer vision. It can awaken you to knew possibilities. Well, I’m being humbled quite a lot at the moment. I do hope it is opening me up to new vision and possibility and will enable me to be of better service to those I share life with. New vision, new sight can awaken to new possibility. As Meister Eckhart once said “There is power in sight which is superior to the eyes set in the head and more far-reaching than the heavens and the earth.”

New sight ought to broaden our vision, so that we can begin to see things not so much as we want to see them, but as they are actually are, or at least closer to a true approximation.

The morning after seeing the ducks I was not feeling my best. My mood was low I was feeling quite self conscious, vulnerable, exposed. I went to the gym, but did not perform to my best. As I was showering afterwards one of the instructors came in and looked at me in a towel and quickly said “Could you just wait before towelling off as Alice needs to look round”. I couldn’t say anything as she came in he said “There’s just a hunk of man, do not worry” I remember I felt really self conscious and made a joke and started laughing. He said “don’t laugh, don’t let anyone tell you anything less than that”. Anyway they left and I got dressed and headed to chapel to work. As I walked through Altrincham I bumped into a couple of friends. One offered me a coffee and we talked. I told him what was going and how I was feeling and we shared together. In fact that day several people came to speak with me about other things and I was able to be open with them about feeling a little like that tatty, scraggly magpie, about feeling exposed, vulnerable. The way I was seeing myself and the world that day was not good. It was of course emanating from deep within me, because truth be told it was a beautiful day, the birds were singing and the sun was shining, but I was not deep in my soul. Yet just a few hours later I found myself singing with the birds in the garden. Another friend had messaged me saying “Its perfect weather for outdoor singing meditation.” I agreed and do you know what that is exactly what I did, whilst writing this address. There were some tears, but they were needed tears. They were tears that opened my eyes, my soul, to a new and clearer vision.

It brought to mind some wisdom by Frederick Buechner about paying close attention, something that the birds were allowing me to do it seemed.

“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

All this brought thoughts about vision and what we see. Do we ever see reality as it actually is, or is it as much to do with the condition of the soul? The last eighteen months has brought this ever more sharply into focus for me. Diversity and life exists on a far more complex spectrum, perhaps more a kaleidoscope than any of us could ever envisage, perhaps even envision.

They say that our eyes are the windows to our souls; they say that our eyes reveal our personalities. I always remember an old friend when asking how I was would look intently into my eyes. I found it a little disturbing at first, but today I understand why he did so. He wanted to see and not just hear how I was. He wanted to see with his own eyes. After all seeing is believing, or so they say. I suspect that the friend wanted to look into my soul, to see how I truly was, not how I said I was.

It’s a curious phrase “Eyes are the windows to your soul.” I looked up the origin. Some say it comes from The Bible and certainly there are similar references to be found there. Luke chapter 11 vv 33-36 reads “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

Others have attributed it to Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Emerson, Milton. Still others have said it is an old English folk phrase. I suspect the true author of the exact phrase is the American sculptor Hiram Powers who said “The eye is the window of the soul, the mouth the door. The intellect, the will are seen in the eye; the emotions, sensibilities, and affections, in the mouth. The animals look for man’s intentions right into his eyes. Even a rat, when you hunt him and bring him to bay, looks you in the eye.”

Whatever the exact origin of the phrase it has been around in public consciousness probably ever since we became conscious. Why you may well ask? Well because it reveals a deep truth about humanity. We can hide so much about ourselves, behind a thousand and one masks, but if you look into someone’s eyes and really pay attention, you will see the soul of the person.

Of course the state of our souls will impact on what we then see through our eyes, what we project onto the world. For the eyes are also the window for our soul to vision the world.

Research at Orebro University in Sweden has suggested that that there is real truth in the statement that "The eyes are the windows of the soul". Researches looked at patterns around the iris of the eyes of 428 subjects and compared them with their personality profiles. They claim that certain patterns were consistent in individuals who had similar personality profiles. Matt Larrson a behavioural scientist at the university stated that “Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines...These findings support the notion that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality.” They claim that genetic mutations may be the reason that some people have poor social skills and act impulsively and that this can be revealed through studying the pattern around the iris.

Psychologists as Yale University, in America, have suggested that we believe, even if we do so sub-consciously, that our eyes truly are the window to our souls. They conducted visual experiments with adults and pre-school children. The findings revealed that both groups reacted almost identically. Both groups believed that the essence of a character is to be found in or around the person’s eyes. They claimed that this is not culturally conditioned, more that this is something that is felt intuitively.

Christina Starmans of the Mind Development Lab at Yale claimed that

“The indirect nature of our method and the fact that these judgements are shared by adults and preschoolers, suggests that our results do not reflect a culturally learned understanding...but might instead be rooted in a more intuitive or phenomenological sense of where in our bodies we reside.”

They are suggesting that most of us intuitively believe that the essence of the person is located in or around the eyes.

Could this be true?

Well, it appears that we think so.

There is another curious phrase that we often hear uttered “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” a phrase that literally means that beauty is subjective. I was thinking of the tatty old magpie and how it fascinated me far more than the perfect plump ones. Maybe it was because it looked different that it touched my heart and soul, or perhaps it was because I was feeling a bit like the magpie myself, who knows. All I know is that for the last few weeks that tatty old magpie has enchanted me and lifted my spirits when I have felt low. It has simply carried on being a magpie, not aware that folk might not think it was the most pleasing on the eye.

Beauty is subjective and ideas of beauty change I suspect directly in relation to the state of our hearts and souls. As they say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, another phrase that is of disputed origin. Some say it was coined in ancient Greece. While others site Shakespeare, “In Love’s Labour Lost” he wrote:

“Good Lord Boyet, my beauty though mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter’d by base sale of chapmen’s tongue.”

Benjamin Franklin, in “Poor Richard’s Almanack” wrote “Beauty, like supreme dominion is but supported by opinion” David Hulme wrote “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” The exact phrase though is attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford who in “Molly Bawn” (1878) wrote “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

But is it merely beauty that is in the eye of the beholder? Maybe everything is subjective?

It’s seems that it not only beauty that is in the eye of the beholder. So much of life is about how we see things and how we look at things; so much of life is about perspective. Actually it is more than that it is about “how” we look at things. The eyes reveal so much. So often in life what we are able to see in life is due to condition of our hearts and souls.

It matters how we see life, how gaze on each other. Yes the eyes are the windows of the soul, but also how we see life depends so much on the condition of soul, our humanity. So in actual fact it does matter how we look. Not so much our appearance, but how we vision life.

How we see the world matters and how respond perhaps even more so. Life truly is in the “eye of the beholder” How we see one another is vital. Try to look with open eyes, let your soul be fed by life and let your soul feed the life of others too. The world needs us to look through loving eyes, compassionate eyes, eyes that are wide open and thus able to create a new and beautiful vision, whatever that might be. Me I’m going to keep my eyes open for that scratty looking magpie, for it feeds my soul.

Please find below a devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"

Monday 6 September 2021

The Stray Dog Philosophers Dare to Enter the Arena


Everywhere I go I seem to be surrounded by dogs, they are everywhere. They come in so many shapes and sizes and are just adorable. There was a giant New Found Land outside CafĂ© Nero the other day. He got up as I went to greet him and almost knocked over the table, spilling coffee everywhere. He was a friendly fella and very big boy. Altrincham is full of puppies and all kinds of house dogs. They all bring a smile to my face as I walk around. Now I know a lot of folk got dog’s during lockdown. They have become an increasingly expensive commodity. There is concern that as we continue to return to some kind of normality that some will struggle to keep them. I do hope not.

Did you know that there is a school of ancient Greek philosophy named after dogs. Do you know which one? Well it was the cynics. How and why? You may well ask? Dogs do not appear to be cynical animals at all. Well the cynicism aint what is use to be.

The word “cynic” comes from the ancient Greek word “kynicos” meaning “dog-like”, churlish. Although some suggest that the word “kun” actually takes its origin from “Kunosarges” which was the gymnasium where the early cynics were taught by Antisthenes and those who followed him were considered his “faithful hounds” Whatever the true origins of the world the cynics became known as “The Stray Dog Philosophers”

The best known of cynics was Diogenes. Many of his habits certainly resembled an undomesticated dog. He loved basking naked on the lawn while his fellow philosophers talked on the porch. As they debated the mysteries of the cosmos, Diogenes preferred to soak up some rays. One morning, the great philosopher Plato had a stroke of insight. He caught everyone’s attention, gathered a crowd around him, and announced his deduction: “Man is defined as a hairless, featherless, two-legged animal!” Whereupon Diogenes abruptly leaped up from the lawn, dashed off to the marketplace, and burst back onto the porch carrying a plucked chicken - which he held aloft and shouted, “Behold: I give you... Man!” I am sure a real dog would have been more interested in scoffing the chicken.

Diogenes could be found wandering through the streets in the mid-day sun squinting and holding a lantern to find his way, claiming he was “looking for an honest man” He lived in a hollowed out half barrel which he wheeled through the streets. This was his only possession except for a wooden bowl which he destroyed in protest at the fakeness of society after seeing a boy slave drinking water with his cupped hands.

Those ancient cynics protested against society and attempted to mitigate the dangers of hubris. They believed “virtue” was the only good and that self-control was the only means of achieving it. They rejected what they saw as the falseness of the time. They were known as the “Stray dog philosophers”, so not the domesticated dogs we see on nice leads wandering around town. They rejected the luxury of home living and personal hygiene and they believed that the best way to get their message across to the general public was to verbally abuse them and expel bodily fluids on them as they went about their daily business. Is that dog like? I suspect that the phrase “mud slinging” may have its origins in the original cynics.

The “cynics” became celebrities of a sort in Ancient Greece, even Alexander the Great was fascinated by Diogenes. Several stories are told of their encounters. It is said that one day Diogenes was philosophising to great crowds and Alexander demanded a private audience with him. Diogenes was not very impressed and ignored his request. Eventually Alexander found him sunbathing. Alexander asked him what he could do for him and Diogenese simply asked him to move a little to right as he was blocking the sun. Another version of story claims that when Alexander found Diogenes he was sifting through bones in a graveyard. Alexander asked what he was doing to which Diogenes replied “I am looking for the bones of your father, but cannot differentiate them from the bones of slaves.

Alexander was greatly humbled by Diogenes and said “if he wasn’t Alexander, he’d want to be Diogenes.”

The ancient Greeks “cynics” were the critics of their time and place. They pointed out what was wrong. The original “cynics” had a way of bringing the greatest down to the truly humble level, they were an antidote to the hubris of the day. Yes they had their plus points but there were negatives too, it certainly was not a pathway to friendship and community building. It seemed to me to be the ultimate in isolation and individualism. Anyone can be critical of what others are doing, but what about doing something yourself? The cynics never entered the arena, know they slung mud and criticised those who did.

Diogenes and the other “cynics” remind me a little bit of “Statler and Waldorf” from Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show”. They don’t step into the arena, they don’t participate in the show. They just sit on the balcony heckling the rest of the characters who are trying to create the show. They are archetypes of so many of us who sit back, pour scorn and criticise the efforts of others who are actually doing something. Those who have the courage to step into the arena and do what they can. Anyone can be a critic, it is so easy to just to sit back and criticise the best efforts of others while doing nothing yourself. I’m with Marge Piercy myself. The people I love the best jump into life headfirst. Instead of slinging mud, they do the work that is as common as mud. They participate rather than criticise the work of others.

Here is Piercy’s wonderful poem

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

“Statler and Waldorf” are achetypes of the critic. They resemble the cynics of ancient Greeks. They sling the mud, they stand apart and just por scorn. Now while there is a role for being critical of those in power, it keeps them humble, grounded, level headed and saves us from the danger of hubris, it does not contribute. it does not encourage folk to truly play their part, to participate in the arena of life. It is easy to be a critic to cynically dissect and pull apart what others do. Social media is full of critics of all types. Critics who have opinions on anything and everything, but without the expertise. We are increasingly living in the age of the anti-expert too. It amazes me how folk can believe that reading a few things on the internet suddenly makes you an expert. Or am I being a bit cynical here myself?

Increasingly we seem intent on fault finding and discovering the imperfections in one another. Why do we do this? Do we believe it will help us feel better about ourselves if we pour scorn on the imperfections of others?

In “The Heart of the Enlightened” Anthony De Mello tells the following story.

“A woman complained to a visiting friend that her neighbour was a poor housekeeper. “You should see how dirty her children are – and her house. It is almost a disgrace to be living in the same neighbourhood as her. Take a look at those clothes she has hung out on the line. See the black streaks on the sheets and towels!”

The friend walked up to the window and said, “I think the clothes are quite clean, my dear. The streaks are on your window.”

This story brings to mind those words from Matthews Gospel (ch 7 vv 1- 12) we heard earlier “Why do you see the speck in your neighbours eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye.” It easy to pass judgement and to find fault in others but is that what our task is? To tear apart everyone else and to point out where they are going wrong? Or is it to make the most of who we are not only for ourselves but for the good of all. Is our task to be the critic who picks apart what others do or is it to contribute to life in whatever ways we can? I for one no longer wish to choose the path of lazy cynicism and criticism. I’d much rather do what I can and risk getting shot down.

I find the last line iin this passage from Matthew fascinating. Here Jesus states the Golden Rule of Compassion, the universal essence found in all the great religious traditions. In verse 12 you find those immortal words ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Here lays both the problem and the solution. In these words we find the reason why people are so harshly critical of others. I suspect that they find fault in others because deep down inside is that insidious voice, finding fault in everything they do. People often do love their neighbour as themselves. The problem being that deep down inside they feel no real love for themselves.

You see the greatest critic of them all, the one that seems to drive all other criticism, is that inner critic that quietly tears our own souls apart. I suspect that we find fault in others so as to deflect from that voice that eats away at everything loving and good within ourselves and our world for that matter.

Cynicism eats away at your soul, until you do nothing and believe in nothing. In such a nihilistic state anything goes, all morality is lost and barbarity rules. Cynicism soon becomes nihilism, the worse form emotional cowardice.

As Caitlin Moran wrote in the novel “How to Build a Girl”:

“Cynicism is, ultimately, fear. Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a thick black carapace begins to grow — like insect armor. This armor will protect your heart, from disappointment — but it leaves you almost unable to walk. You cannot dance in this armor. Cynicism keeps you pinned to the spot, in the same posture, forever.”

Here she echoes wisdom from “Teddy” Roosevelt a hundred years earlier

On the 23rd April 1910 former US president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt took to podium at the Sorbonne in Paris and delivered what has been considered one the great speeches. It was titled “Citizenship in a Republic”. Here are a couple extracts from it:

“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise work which the critic himself never tries to perform…

… It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…

The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.”

Great language don’t you think.

It is easy to be the critic who sneers and throws mud at the person who gives life an honest go, who dares to step into the arena to do good, to do what they can. It says something of our age that one of the worst things a person can be today is a so called “Do-gooders”. Since when is doing good a negative thing? Well in this cynical age it seems.

Too often we mistaken critical thinking for sneering cynicism. Critical thinking is vital, but it also needs to be constructive. Today the cynic seems to have an ever more powerful voice than they did in the past. Today they don’t sling mud, instead they just join in forums of the internet and social media and tear apart those who dare put their head above the parapet and step into the arena and do good. Just a decade or so after Roosevelts speech Bertrand Russell asserted “construction and destruction alike satisfy the will to power, but construction as a rule gives more satisfaction to the person who can achieve it.” Those who enter the arena and give things ago, even if they fail will find satisfaction. Those who cynically sneer, sling mud and point out the imperfections will likely live lives where “They get no satisfaction”

There is no real satisfaction in sneering at life, just slinging dirt or pointing out the dirt on someone else’s washing or missing the plank in your own eye for the speck in your neighbours. It is easy to be a critic. It less easy to step into the arena and actually do something. What the world needs right now is less critics and more constructors as we attempt to build back society. That is not to say that we should not be critical. Any healthy society needs those who point ought what can be done better. The key is how we do this. We need to do so constructively. We need to learn from the original cynics and become folk who enter the arena with hope, ones who offer another way, a better way, rather ones who sit at home, pick up their keyboards and cynically dissect the work of those who dare to step into the arena of life.

So, I am going to leave you with a question. Are you going to be a mud slinger? Or are you going to be encourager or better still a constructor? The choice is yours. What is it going to be?

Below is a devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"