Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Alive and kicking

We realise how comfortable we are with our place within this community and know that everything is as it should be.  And so it was for me on Sunday when taking part in a spirited debate about how to tackle the issue of making our worship space more accessible and even if it would be possible.  We may have to think the unthinkable and move elsewhere. But we have been here many times before - in spirited debate.  People get tetchy and passionate and exasperated and ... engaged.  Yes people are engaged together - knowing that our purpose is to improve the experience of everyone who attends or who would like to attend the Meeting House.

I have a sneaky feeling that we may still be a bit too rough in our debates - let us hope that we can learn to be a bit gentler.  The more that we do this, the more comfortable we become with each others' passions. The more that we understand each other, the more that we understand the process.  We know that there is a natural ebb and flow, squalls and storms, rainbows and sunbursts.  It is a kind of faith - faith that if we commit whole-heartedly to this open and inclusive approach we will come to a decision which is embraced by everyone and which works.

Of course it isn't easy - but often the best things aren't.  Any victory must by ours rather than yours or mine.  It isn't quick - but it is thorough. Michael posted this as part of a longer posting on Facebook ...

It takes patience and goodwill and courage for a group of people truly to reach a shared agreement on a joint decision . . . the very fact of everybody staying in the room yesterday (just!!) gave me reason to believe that these issues will be tackled . . . Unitarianly!!!!

I am reminded about national conversations about growth.  To my mind we are growing as a community.  We are growing in depth and breadth.  We are, if we let ourselves, developing as individuals and together as a community.  As I have written in an article for the January 2012 NUF Newsletter our community is good at talking - let us keep doing this. And let us keep challenging ourselves and each other as gently as we can to express our feelings as well as our thoughts and to consider changing our opinion. Doing things unitarianly means that we can change our minds, indeed it is to be expected. 

I was moved by Sunday's exchanges and felt sure that, whatever else we are, we are definitely alive and kicking.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Committing ourselves

The potential blessings in our communities are untapped resources. How much could we offer that we have yet to discover ourselves?

I have been musing over the difference between religious community and humanism as the local humanists group will be renting our social room once a week. To some extent some humanists are more concerned with 'theology' than we are.  Perhaps it's just us in Newcastle-under-Lyme or perhaps it is a wider phenomenon.   It is this development of community spirit that we focus on.  Sure we share a belief in something bigger than ourselves but that doesn't have to be god, God or gods. The majority of our effort and attention is in knowing each other, having concern for each other and actively loving each other.  It is this commitment to love which moves me.

Rather than talking about god loving us it is about us loving us, and us loving each other: not in some soft and fluffy, warm fuzzy way but in concrete and dynamic ways. Once I struggled to know what my life's purpose was.  Having sussed that I struggled with the question 'Why religious community?'  Now I know that it is about actively loving people who are not in the first instance family or friends but people who I share a physical space with for an hour or two, twice a month.  This involves, at times, effort when I don't want to give it, patience when I feel impatient, a listening ear when I would rather be day-dreaming, and presence when I would rather be absent.  It is in the hard-work and effort that the growth emerges, where grace may be found.  It is a commitment to see religious community as something to invest in rather than a place to capitalise on.  I don't just go to the Meeting House for me but for you.  It is here that the Rastafarian concept of 'I and I' seems so relevant.

In doing this we discover so much about ourselves about our strengths and our weaknesses, our deep wounds and our surface scratches, our need for connection and our need for separateness.  Being in religious community is not selfless but none the worse for that.  It can be, if you let it and if you have soulmates with you, a real roller coaster of extremes - sadness and joy, discovery and loss, exhaustion and exhilaration.  And sometimes it's just very ordinary.  And in that ordinariness we can see how natural it is for us to be a part of this blessed whole.  

We realise how comfortable we are with our place within this community and know that everything is as it should be.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Hard times and Blessings

No-one wishes for hard times but everyone wishes for the riches that can come as we embrace these hard times and live with them.

I read this quote with my ‘new’ eyes. My new eyes see things from a steeper viewing angle, they are critical, narrow and inward focused. My personal hard times at the moment are adjusting to the possibility of life as a disabled person. I may be starting to adjust and live with this possibility, but embracing is still a long way off!

Not wanting to sound miserable and defeatist (although some days I am). In some ways I have embraced my situation. As a very independent individual I have been forced to ask for help on many occasions lately, something I find quite difficult to do. From simple things such as asking for something to be passed rather than moving to get it, to requesting lifts to and from when I can’t drive. This is where the spirit of community comes into its own, you could describe it as the ‘riches’. From the help at the Meeting House, getting to and from Chapel to an improvised pulpit so I could deliver the service sat down, to the staff at the shopmobility scheme always cheerful and with some innovative thoughts on mowing down pedestrians! Help is only a request away and never, as yet, refused. By embracing the hard times you find the riches, without the hard times you wouldn’t look for them. These little unobtrusive gems that lurk in dark corners waiting to be found. So often to the giver plain and simple, a small gesture, but to the receiver a real blessing that can mean the difference between enjoying the company of others and staring at four walls, a comfortable trip to the supermarket rather than a struggle at best. It's true that bad times bring out the best in people, and certainly in our Unitarian community everyone leaps to the aid of each other whatever the problem. I feel blessed to belong to such a community.

So my new eyes see far too many limitations in a situation at the moment, see too many barriers and not very far forward, but they also see the kindness that hides in every black hole, the smiling faces and cheery words. I can look through blessing tinted spectacles to see the real riches and that is something worthy of embracing.

The potential blessings in our communities are untapped resources. How much could we offer that we have yet to discover ourselves?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Wonder and challenge

We live on a world, in a Universe, full of potential and possibility; how dare we attempt to do less than meet its wonder and challenge!

I remember some years ago speaking with a medical consultant at a meeting.  He was telling me that he had made two batches (yes two!) of mince pies – and that making mince pies (normally only once batch) was his Christmas job.  I was wide-eyed.  ‘You have only one Christmas job?’ I queried.  ‘Yes, but I earn all the money.’  I responded, ‘I earn all the money and do all the jobs!’  He didn’t seem impressed.  As for many, December can be a very stressful time for me – starting with my daughter’s birthday through a few other birthdays to Christmas and New Year – it’s a time of celebration but ultimately someone has to do something to make that celebration work.  I couldn’t bear to be inactive but ...

There have been times in my life when I am so overwhelmed by my responsibilities and so anxious about life that I have come along to a Unitarian gathering to get away from it all.  To find an oasis of calm and compassion where I can forget that I can’t pay my bills, that I feel that I can’t cope with my sick dog, that I am stunned with grief following the deaths of three significant people in my life in as many months or I am so worn-out that I can’t remember what it is I am trying to escape from.  This is life – we get these periods and we get periods when we feel much happier and healthier.

In our darkest or even our greyest times, wonder and awe can be too much or may go unappreciated.  It may seem at these times that challenge is the order of the day.  My experience tells me that in really difficult times the thread of connection may be invisible but it is there.  On coming out of the tunnel we can look back and marvel at how we made it through – and in one piece.  But we did make it through and perhaps that is the wonder.  That we are stronger, more determined, more positive and more resourceful than we ever imagined.  We made it through by sticking with it, trying to live a good life despite the set-backs.  We also suspect that without the slightest hint of challenge life becomes unbearably mundane and our spirits shrivel.

Our faith may be blind.  However I prefer to see it as built upon a foundation of experience and learning.  No-one wishes for hard times but everyone wishes for the riches that can come as we embrace these hard times and live with them. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Potential and Possibility

Heading in a general direction and trusting in what we find rather than trying to fit in to what we find sounds a much better idea.

Indeed, according to the saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that’s why we call it the present”. We can never know what it is that the birds of our lives are flying into, although we might be able to extrapolate something from our past experiences. Each second of the future unfolds new, and fresh, and full of potential, and we must try to make the most of the abundance which we find there.

I often have trouble filling in forms which require me to describe my life – past and present employment, earnings, interests, and so on, as I find that I just don’t fit into their boxes – their pigeon holes. My life is unique, as are all lives. My beliefs and thought processes can’t be put into narrow boxes – as our good old (or rather new!) “Purple Hymn Book” tells us, “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” – our thoughts are free, they can’t be trapped, or confined by scholars’ wisdom, or forced to bow to those who would dictate what they should be. So, too, our very lives and aspirations, our consciences, and maybe above all our human ability to look at a current situation and see almost infinite possibilities; a glimpse perhaps of the infinite web of life in all its mystery and potential.

I propose that we could think again about our recent reflective topic of “innocence” in that light, as a trusting in our own potential and that of the moment, as seeing each second as a fresh start. Of course, we must try to avoid the trap of being too na├»ve, of being unaware of dangers and pitfalls, but equally be wary of living our lives in constraints and stale habits. Each action, each thought, should be weighed on its own merits, each moment appraised for itself as we meet it.

We live on a world, in a Universe, full of potential and possibility; how dare we attempt to do less than meet its wonder and challenge!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Abundance and Opportunity!

Opportunities often arise when we least expect them and from the most obscure sources. Yet, if we take time to explore them fully and accept them as an abundance they very often lead to more and more, and very often diverse, opportunities. As we spread out and engage with these chances we learn more and find new ways to express ourselves and learn about ourselves. We may develop contacts within what initially appear to be quite diverse communities, but as we immerse ourselves we find a link that binds us. We develop new links and forge new friendships that lead to ever more opportunities and ideas, pushing us further along our path wherever it may lead. A small detour before we re-join our main carriageway or a complete change of direction, that is the mystery of opportunity.

Abundance is what gives life spark. Abundance often conjures up a mental picture of financial prosperity, but abundance is much more than money. The abundance of a meadow in full flower fills your heart and soul with joy and while that to me is a rich abundance there is no financial incentive to search it out. The food we have available to us is an abundance that many would be grateful for. I’m not saying we don’t need money, we need to buy that food, but some of the things we take for granted make our lives abundant often in ways only we can appreciate if we take the time to notice them. Smiles, hugs, cheery words, all cost nothing and are internal abundance forming. Have a think about your personal abundance……. Welcoming abundance into your life by feeling abundant and positive, easier said than done but worth the effort! So where is the abundance? It could be financial or it could be internal. It could be re-uniting with an old friend and a shared memory. Discovering a new talent or rediscovering an old one. A business opportunity out of the blue that gives us a financial boost, the abundance of friends enabling us to offer an opportunity from one community to another forging more links between people and the chance for more abundance and opportunities. Abundance gives us the opportunity to help others which can help them to find abundance from a new opportunity, a spiral that continues to grow.
I thought about how chance meetings and opportunities can change where you are going and I don’t know why but it made me think of pigeons! Pigeon holes are only for pigeons. Pigeons know where they are going, maybe that’s why they fit in holes! Heading in a general direction and trusting in what we find rather than trying to fit in to what we find sounds a much better idea.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

And we're off!

I have a glass cutter and goggles - I'm in!!

So wrote Karen in commenting on a Facebook posting of mine on the Staffordshire Unitarian group page. Sounds like we could be planning some sort of jewel heist or doing a bit of house-breaking. We are actually planning a stained glass workshop led by my friend Lorna who lives in Hove. We were best friends when we were 16 and have stayed that way for over 40 years. Our lives have taken quite different paths - Lorna is a teacher and an artist. She seems to be able to pick up skills to do a variety of artistic things very easily - I am not hopeless but I wouldn't make a living out of it. But we do share things - we are both joiners and we are both people who get passionately involved. And we like to know about each others' lives and the people in them.

Thinking back to last Sunday and our coming of age ceremony for C, and I make the link with our plans for a stained glass workshop. Although there are people who have found themselves at our door through a focused search - I am one such person - there are many others who come because their friend or a family member does; or they come along to a wedding or a funeral; or join us for a social or a walk. At every opportunity we are each, as individuals and as a group, the public face of Unitarianism. We are all ambassadors. Which means that we must
  • Talk about our Unitarian communities with enthusiasm but also be prepared to listen to the deep yearnings of others;
  • Have highly enjoyable events and activities to invite people to;
  • Be creative with our ceremonies and rites of passage; and
  • Invite people along.
This is not just about finding new members but about believing that there are people who need what we have to offer if they but knew. It is also about people being touched by a loving and open faith community, with no expectation of anything more. A Unitarian community, as any other, is where networks collide. This should provide us with abundant opportunities.


Welcome to the Staffordshire Unitarians Blog - SUB-versions. We are creating a group blog which challenges us to write as a group. We have a few rules - here they are
  1. No-one can post consecutively (after the initial two postings);
  2. We will attempt to start each new post with the last line of the previous one; and
  3. We will encourage as many people from our community as possible to participate whether or not they have access to the internet.
We will aim for short rather than long and for weekly posts - but we need to find our rhythm so do not want to be prescriptive at this point. Looking forward to some interesting comments!

Here goes ...