On Solitude

December 13, 2017

Not a subject I know much about to be honest. Brought up one of eight children in a terraced house with 3 bedrooms and an attic; going on to university halls of residence, student flats and then a family house with 4 children of my own. Quiet has been a word I could never spell! Not that I’m complaining because to be surrounded by so much unconditional love (albeit often the rough sort) is wonderful and fuels the boundless optimism that has supported me through life. Its just I’ve not a clue about what it feels like to lonely for days on end and while I’m immensely privileged to be able to say that it kind of colours what I have to say further on.

There’s something written about loving your neighbour as yourself hence you need to love yourself first. Not a selfish love but one that recognises your own true worth. We are all in some way special and we need to understand how we are each special before moving on to the equally special people around us. It seems to me as a cog in a hectic wheel that to understand yourself you need some peace and quiet. Believe me I’ve tried to reflect in the midst of my daily life – but never with much success. So here’s to solitude.

When I was at school the catholics at the end of term would walk over the “Forest” to Mount St Bernards Abbey, a Cistercian setup just a mile over the hill. The others would attend end of term assembly with all the rubbish that attends it whilst we would have a pleasant walk, a very spiritual mass followed by chatting to the monks and wondering round that marvellous space, another pleasant walk back and bingo! It was that brush with monastic life that suggested how you could achieve solitude – a productive solitude. Not that I wanted the monks life of getting up at 5am for prayers, more prayers and yet more prayers. Perhaps it was the walk over the forest (rather aptly called Charlies Rocks but thats another story). Certainly outside / trees / the greensward has held its spell over me for all my life.

So solitude to me is sitting somewhere preferably on the grass with the sun shining outside in the countryside or a green space listening to whatever happens by – birds, silence or an aeroplane. I wish as a christian, I could say it was in deep prayer but its more about listening and well just being. I’m sure many traditions that have comtemplation and meditation at the their heart will be able to say this so much more eloquently but there comes a quiet time that creeps over you if you can just find that space, that time to be.

We are coming up to Christmas with its own special message of peace, humility and reaching out to help the ‘other one”, be it homeless man, refugee or just plain pregnant lady starting her pains. It can / well nearly always is a busy rather hectic time so finding space for silence is heroic. But maybe that’s why it comes to us all that now is the time to do it. There’s always a church on the High Street in among the shops. If not there’ll be a small municipal park with a couple of trees to guide us to ourselves. So don’t worry about Aunt Hattie; pop into that church / park / gurdwara and just sit there.

That’s it; that’s the solitude we all need to find our extra special own selves. Then when we have that we can do anything – even deal with daily life!!


Little steps to being green.

November 17, 2017

Have a Car Free Day once a week but once a month is good too. There are two big issues wrapped up in this little exhortation. The first and obvious one is to leave the car at home. Showing that you can manage without a car even if its a very temporary state of affairs. By getting out of the car you are doing more physical exercise, you are using less fossil non renewable fuel and maybe most important – you can engage with people you meet.

When you’re in the car and see someone you’d like to chat to its usually plain impossible unless you’re in mid Wales where people are more patient and the car behind wants to join in the conversation as well! But on foot; or on a bike; you can stop, chat, make a date and no one is inconvenienced and it only takes a few more moments. This is how communities are built – social human interaction. The proverbial “cup of sugar”.

That’s the obvious point about that little tip. A less obvious one centres round the last part of the exhortation – “once a month is good too.” Its about being less strident, less aggressive with our steps to being green. So many people seem to want us to live in teepees on a Welsh hillside, growing our own saucepans and knitting our own sandals. The truth is if you keep hitting people over the head they will develop coping mechanisms and in time just ignore it. Being negative is actually no fun at all. But if you take the little that folk do and build on that; praising them for the very little step they make; setting new goals that are achievable then they are encouraged, we feel better and together we improve. I think it was some deep intellectual philosopher who suggested we ‘accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and don’t mess with Mr Inbetween.”

Which kind of brings me to my next exhortation which I think needs no explanation at all.

Start with one small step – recycle one bottle, reuse one bag or turn off one light.

Is the World turning Green?

November 9, 2017

As Syria joins the rest of the world in ratifying the Paris Accord on Climate Change isn’t it about time we all did a little more green action? There is a misconception that to be “green” you have to wear knitted sandals and sport a two foot long beard (and that’s just the women!) but life’s not like that. Giant journeys start with one small step and so it is with saving our common home, the Earth. If we all did one new thing, one small green step, then quickly we would move to a more sustainable better way of living.

Green action doesn’t just mean spending money on windmills or buying more expensive organic meat. There are many ways of reducing our footprint on the planet like pulling the curtains at dusk to keep the day’s heat in. These only require us to think a little more or change our daily routine – switching off lights when we leave a room etc. I got a bit fed up reading all about these expensive or life changing ways to be green so I came up wth a few of my own. Over the last year I’ve been sharing these on my local church bulletin each week; prompted by Pope Francis’s letter in 2015 called Laudato Si or Care for our Common Home.

Some of these ideas may seem not very directly green but its important to realise that being green means being human, fully and in all the deep senses of that word. So its as much abut being at peace with yourself as using recycled materials. The only way we will save our home is by cooperating together so we need to get to a place where we can all do that. That means we don’t fight; we respect each other; we realise just how marvellous we all are. So my little green hints have as much to do with mindfulness as energy efficiency.

So why not read my twitter over the next few weeks to see these little hints? Especially now as we can use 280 characters not 140! Wow, all the extra words…. And for those not twitting I’ll collect them together and make some kind of bloggy thing!

Don’t Vote!

October 11, 2017

Try Consensus instead. This from the man who’s urged everyone to vote all the time. But why? Well look around you; listen to the way politics is done today. Look at the antipathy and the violence of the language. People seem to be at war with one another. And its not just brexit, Trump and Putin who are doing it. So there has to be a different way of doing things.

That different way is talking round the table. That different way is trying to persuade someone of your argument knowing that without their approval you cannot move on. Listening to their argument knowing that they earnestly believe in it and want it to happen. Talking, listening and staying at the table until you have reached a joint way of making things happen. A way which is neither your ideal nor theirs but some middle way which gives all those at the table some ground, some ownership. This is called consensus. And don’t tell me its difficult, its impossible and no one can make it work because I know how difficult it is. And I know it can work and when it does the world seems a better place and all those difficulties you expected just disappear (with a little push).

I know because its the way the Green Party chooses to do its business only resorting to votes when that consensus totally escapes us. Its an amazing exercise because you know that to get your way you have got to take the others with you. Which means you have to listen hard to them to see what common ground you have that you can both build on. Then there’s the tentative steps forward constantly looking out for mines which means even harder listening, exploring with an open mind what could or could not be acceptable. It takes longer than a show of hands but it lasts longer than a show of hands too.

I’m not suggesting Teresa and Jeremy try it now. I’m suggesting when you go to your next scouts or church committee you try it there. Just once or twice suggest we don’t have a vote on this – lets all try and agree what to do. Without doubt everyone will shy away from it with countless reasons why not. Stick with it even just the one decision and maybe look at it next time. Which decision made the most sense? Was it the consensual one?

We have to try to change the way the world does business. We only have a few chances; why not take them?

Don’t vote but I may come back to this message nearer an election!!!

Its Complicated

September 29, 2017

A while back I started taking a few hints, quotes and tips loosely based on Pope Francis encyclical “Laudato Si” and sharing them here. Well I’m still plugging away with them in the weekly Parish Bulletin and I wanted to share one or two more. But talking to people who have seen activities first hand in the developing world I’m aware that things can get quite complicated even with the best will in the world.

So rather than just share one or two I want to take one such simple tip and see where it can lead us. The one I’ve taken has a quote from Pope Francis followed by a suggestion (from me!).

#242 St Joseph … can inspire us to work with generosity and tenderness in protecting this world which God has entrusted to us
* Make do and Mend. Jobs repairing our things are mostly local, requiring skilled craftsmen like St Joseph.

Right – Make Do and Mend – surely can’t be more straightforward and simple than that. Clearly if you keep something going longer you put off using more of the Earth’s precious resources which must be good, right? Also by mending you (or a local craftsperson) are learning new skills / using existing ones. You are keeping the jobs local. You are adding to the local economy. This is all very positive feel good stuff.

However such is the interconnectedness of modern society that by not buying newer stuff you are probably reducing the number of people in poor developing economies a job! Whilst they may have some family income the factory job producing that dress, tee shirt or toaster provides valuable extra income that enables them to support grandparents, children education etc. And your much loved old toaster may be grossly inefficient using bags more energy than a new one would.

Perhaps you can see its not too finely balanced this particular idea but there are pros and cons. And if there are considerations on both sides of such a seemingly simple notion of make do and mend its not a big step to see how other “good” ideas may come unstuck. This is not an attempt to depress everyone but to appreciate that crusading zeal sometimes is not appropriate. Compassion, thought and understanding help.

So, if its complicated why bother? And if I can’t decide till I have reams of facts how do I know what to do? Why shouldn’t I just shrug my shoulders and carry on like the others seem to do? Because there is injustice; there is deprivation and there are people (just like you and me) who struggle to feed their family. There are people who do not have the dignity of deciding their own fate.

And at the end of all this analysis it is actually really simple. Because you are a compassionate human being and you care about other human beings any decision you take in all conscience will be more often right than wrong. We all get it wrong sometimes but this shouldn’t stop us trying. And it shouldn’t blind us to the good we can do.

So be kind; think about the effect your actions have on others; care about each person and learn from any mistakes you make. Yes its complicated but its not beyond the love of one person for another person.

How lucky we are

June 17, 2017

Reflecting on the recent tragedies I am reminded that we are all vulnerable. At Westminster tourists were the innocent targets and also the rulers of our country. Then young people going to a pop concert were targeted. Followed by the well healed cognoscenti of Borough Market and now the social housing, the recent arrivals and oft vilified folk who keep our capital working.

No one has a pass from disaster. We are all equal in the eyes of that task master, Death. So it behoves us all to look around, smile at our neighbours and repeat how lucky we are to have such neighbours, such good fortune. Ooh yes I know many of us could do with a little more good fortune and I wish you all well in that but most of us have a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our back. That’s a pretty good start compared to so many. I’ll not add the education, work, family, right to protest and all that stuff – actually its a bloody long list isn’t it?

So cry with those who mourn and never deny your humanity, flawed as it most undoubtedly is, but always remember in that quest moment before dawn. How lucky we are.

Tomorrow vote for all our tomorrows – Vote Green

June 7, 2017

Having just watched Channel 4 News where a wonderful looking man from Meadowell, North Tyneside talked about struggling, just managing and losing all your pride I am quite unashamedly asking you to vote for the Green Party. I am asking you to use your vote not to shake the world; not to form the next government but to vote for hope not hate. To think of the place you, your children and grandchildren will live in in the future. I am asking you to listen to the small voices that get drowned out in the shouting matches that elections become.

Quite simply vote for what you believe; for what your heart tells you is right.

We only have this vote, treasure it and turn it into a golden treasure. A green treasure?

Love and smile
All the while.

Still Caring for our Common Home…

June 4, 2017

On this Pentecost Sunday it seems more needed than ever to share thoughts about loving and caring together for our common home so I make no apologies for continuing my mini series. This time its
#206 Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act. That’s what Pope Francis said in Laudato Si.
Eat less meat, buying British meat. This means animals have been well looked after. Cows also cause climate change. That was my suggestion about how to make a moral choice!

Actually it amazes me just how significant our purchasing decisions can be. Look back at the boycott of South African goods in apartheid times. And closer to now the rise of organic farming, Fairtrade and other positive moves in compassionate farming (both for the animals and their human keepers!). I am reminded of a mini campaign I tried some years ago to support local shops. My proposal was for each of us to try and spend £5 a week in our local shop. Because we’d be buying things we needed it wouldn’t actually cost us £5 but clearly their prices would be more than our usual supermarket so maybe it might “cost” us £1 – not a lot actually for those of us on a reasonable income. So if significant numbers did that the turnover of that shop would increase. Once that happens they could start to decrease margins (i.e. prices) a little so our £5 might only “cost” us 75p; etc. And for those less mobile and less well off all that amounts to quite a big benefit.

On an end note to those ideas I know even British meat is not perfect but its a lot better than elsewhere and these tips are about improving where we are – not being perfect. I’ll leave that battle for others.

Our Common Home – A Mini Series

June 1, 2017

Every week we are sharing with fellow churchgoers in Harborne some quotes and tips about a letter Pope Francis wrote in 2015 called Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home. Often through the history of the Catholic Church Popes will issue letters called Encyclicals to make people think more deeply about particular subjects. Pope Francis is no exception except the way he does it is his own. Even the title’s is different not in Latin but old Italian (pause for astonishment!!). “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. Its about how we should look after God’s creation, the Earth.

As a catholic I welcome it. As a green I’m cock a hoop! It distills much of the thinking since E F Schumacher wrote his book “Small is Beautiful” in 1973 about mankinds actions which are responsible for so much distress in our ecosystems today. So to have what amounts to a beautifully written and eminently readable study guide to the problem and our responsibilities for it all in a positive empowering tone is wonderful.

First two plugs – for the full text of the encyclical go to “w2.vatican.va” choose English and click on Encyclicals and you’ll see Laudato Si there. And secondly if you can vote Green do so next week. Its only a small thing but your vote will be seen by you for ever more.

We started with this quote from the first paragraph (all paragraph numbers are signalled by #)
#1 St Francis reminds us that our common home is like a beautiful mother who embraces us.
Our tip was
* Spend an hour outside, appreciating the gift of creation

The quote is about feeling responsible but in an emotional way. A mother is full of love, warm and consoling. So Pope Francis wants us to think about the world around us. It sustains us and gives us all we need just as a mother does in the first few months of our life. It is a theme he returns to many times – openly urging us to use our emotions to inform our thinking.

The tip is about putting ourselves into a position where we can notice things around us, even it is in the middle of a city. There are always trees, grass, weeds and other people to see. These things should remind us creation is not just for us alone. We share it and it provides for us.

I’ll talk a little about the other quotes and tips in other posts which will be a little more frequent from now on.

A Lenten Post

March 1, 2017

Sounds like I’ll be fencing! But it is a time to take stock and see what needs mending; what needs more work and how you can improve. I sat at a meeting yesterday listening to earnest people making their points and feeling rather smug. So thats something to change straight away, eh? Elsewhere we were chatting about the pernicious spread of social media platforms and how they can be manipulated to yield vast amounts of data about ourselves. perhaps more worryingly how that data can then be used to influence us in our choices; be that what shoes to buy or whom to vote for.

There is a way to overcome this and its just simple eyeball to eyeball contact. Good old fashioned talking to each other. But its no good doing that from the pulpit of Saint Sanctimonious Cathedral. You have to engage people where they are. Which brings me back to my feeling smug. You can’t be smug when you’re trying to engage with the person who’s just bumped into you because they were engrossed in their screen as they walked down the street.

There is a tremendous amount of smugness at the moment as well as the more obvious “violence” and dislike of others so its going to be a hard battle. And it begins in our hearts so that we can see the wonder of each human being just like Jesus did as He suffered in agony for everyone of us.

So by the end of this Lent I’m really not going to be as smug – honest, promise, cross my fingers, help…..