Values into action: Easy Virtue

Values into action: Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue …. sounds appealing doesn’t it? This idea that we can do good, and feel a frisson of virtue with very little effort is appealing. After all so many of us feel horrified by the harshness, injustice, fearsome political manoeuvring taking over our society, and at the same time we feel powerless to change it all. We may find a cause or two and dedicate what time, effort and money we can manage, but for many of us that is very limited and there seem to be so many worthwhile causes.

Which is where the idea of Easy Virtue comes in. It is a very simple concept where, rather than requiring the resources you cannot give, you organise your life so that the many things we all do, routinely, are chosen because as well as being what we want and need, they do good...

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Values into action: The Three 'R's of Action

Values into action: The Three 'R's of Action

Given the mania of the past two weeks, today seems like a reasonable time to pause - to hope that there are no new Trump tantrums this hour - and to try to get our footing again.

Many of us have taken action in various ways already. We have protested. We have donated money to organisations we hope can make a difference. We have spoken out on social media and maybe elsewhere. We have pressed our elected representatives to take action. We have worked at helping refugees.  We have tried to exercise kindness and compassion. There are probably more ways that some of you have already taken action. We all realise that this is just a start to work that will need to go on for a very long time.

And many of us have expressed that we really don’t know what to do. I’ve heard discussions about whether or not protests are helpful - and whether they might, in fact, play into the hands of our opponents.

It’s a complex web of possibilities in the early stages of a crisis that is, in itself, complex and shrouded by uncertainty and dishonesty.

I want to offer a simple way to think about how we respond, which I’ll call the three ‘R’s of action: Resist, Relieve, and Reconcile. I will maintain that all three are necessary, that we probably can’t do all at once, but that we must keep all three in our hearts all the time...

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Values into action: What Matters?

Values into action: What Matters?

We may value justice but find that action there can conflict with the value we place on our safety. We may value charity but need to weigh that value against our valuing of a comfortable home to live in, leisure activities, and other uses of money that make our lives more liveable.

So, we may hold many different values, those values vary in importance, and our values can - and regularly do - come into conflict with one another.

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Values into action: Martin Luther King Jr

Values into action: Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an imperfect man who gave much to the American people and the people of the world. His work arguably accelerated the advent of civil rights for African Americans. He also brought focus to the struggles of economic inequality and lent his weight to the opposition of the war in Vietnam.

And King made a large and lasting contribution to non-violent activism, demonstrating that this approach could bring victory to the oppressed over oppressors who seemed to have all the power and tools of the state at their disposal.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being. He did what he did not alone, but with many allies and many many more unsung followers willing to risk their security, safety, and their very lives for the cause.

Why was King able to put his values into action in such a powerful way?

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Values into Action: Emmeline Pankhurst

Values into Action: Emmeline Pankhurst

Many - if not all - of us have a sense that our actions fall short of our values. Why is that? What accounts for the gap between our values and our action? 

Do we know how to put our values into action? What does that take? Can anyone take effective action or is it something that only some can do? Can it be learned? 

These are the sort of questions we will wrestle with over the next three months.

Along the way, we’ll look at at a few specific people to see what we can learn from them about putting values into action. Today, we consider Emmeline Pankhurst, the prominent campaigner for women’s suffrage who lived from the middle of the 19th century into the early 20th.

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New Years Day

New Years Day

2016 has brought worrisome news across Europe and the United States. We have watched as governments have veered to the right, as racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other kinds of hate have been encouraged. We’ve seen dangerous people placed in positions of great power. We have seen a year that is outside the normal political swings. 

Now, more than ever, the uncertain new year ahead seems fraught with danger. It bears threats for all of us, but especially for immigrants, for the poor, for the disabled, for anyone whose skin is not white and for LGBT people. We cannot know what will come, but just as our actions will affect the shape of 2017 for ourselves, so too are our efforts needed to shape 2017 for the rest of our human family...the future of our society depends on people who don’t play it safe - people willing to expose themselves to what may come.

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Christmas Day

Christmas Day

It is Christmas day
A day for joy and hope
And yet, the season’s carols do not drown out the worries of our lives
Nor does its beauty distract fully from our sorrows
May this day be filled with light
The light of the slowly lengthening days
The light of comfort and love
And the light of hope
That illuminates and makes possible the future we seek

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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

Whatever else Christmas may be to us, it must be a time of hope. No matter what presents we receive or give, no matter what we believe or don’t believe about the Christian story, no matter how many parties we attend or how we celebrate, we need the promise that Christmas brings - the promise that small things can make a big difference and that tomorrow can be brighter. 

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Waiting and hoping

The wise Maya Angelou offers us a solution to the tension between patience and very justified impatience. “Seek patience and passion in equal amounts. Patience alone will not build the temple. Passion alone will destroy its walls.”

Our passion and our patience must go hand in hand. When we act solely out of passion, we leap before looking. We act without sufficient reflection and care. We are driven to do something -anything. And, most importantly, our agitation and anxiety can lessen our effectiveness. 

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What's your story?

What's your story?

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around.” Terry Pratchett’s words are true not just in fantasy worlds of witches and magic. They are true here in this world of reality. The stories we tell as individuals, as communities, as tribes, as companies, political beings, as cities, and as nation shape us.

It matters what stories are told and what stories we grab hold of. It matters how women are portrayed. Can we have fairytales where women are strong and rescue the weak but handsome man? 

It matters how LGBT people are portrayed - can there ever be same-sex love in a film that ends with happily ever after? 

It matters how Muslims are portrayed. Must they always be the terrorist villains?

We need other stories. We need stories that exemplify values of compassion and decency and justice and love. We need stories that reinforce the belief that there is goodness in everyone. We need stories that help to change hearts - our own and those we consider opponents.

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Faith without God

Faith without God

The great 20th century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that - looking at the span of history - everything is confusing, mysterious, and unpredictable in its own time. His words: “Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any im­mediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith.”

And this is essential. If we were to decide to act in the world only when we were certain of the consequences - absolutely confident of the future effects of our current actions - then we would do nothing at all.

Faith is necessary for acting in the real world - in the reality that nothing is certain and that everything is far more complex and mysterious than we can understand.

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God of the Gaps

God of the Gaps

It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. I’ve been assured by people who know that this is not true, but the message is clear enough. When we are terrified and distraught - when all seems dark - we find ourselves in need of something to hold onto - something that will assure us that somehow everything will be alright - or at least something to give us the strength to face what we must face.

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Believe in Good

2016 is, for many of us, the year when hopes were dashed that the world would inexorably become more just, more peaceful, and more decent.

In this time of shock - this time of grief - this time of remembrance - we will perhaps begin recognise that the struggle of our time has come - the struggle for what kind of societies we will live in and what kind world we will work to create for future generations. 

The struggle will not be brief. It will not be easy. It will not be completed in our time. It will not be without great sacrifice.

But we cannot give in. We cannot give up on good.

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10 years at New Unity

In ministry, there is never a time when the present and the past do not tug on you. People become comfortable with the way things are...I always think to myself when there are opinions expressed ‘who is speaking for the future? Who is speaking for those who could be transformed by this place and make a better world because of it?’ It is hard to speak for that future when we live with our present needs, but we must.

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What do you know?

The following words have become embedded in our culture thanks to The Matrix:
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more.”

That is the moment when Neo is given the choice of whether he wanted to return to the false virtual reality or face the world as it is. Neo chooses the red pill - chooses to know reality as it is. If he hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been much of a film and we would have been left without some amazing special effects and a few sequels that were nowhere near as good as the original. But, was Neo’s choice sensible? Would he have been happier if he had chosen the blue pill and returned to the illusion? Was his world better off released from illusion into a bleak reality?

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Culture: Living in the Salad Bowl

The Golden Rule does not suffice for such a culture. It works well if we are all the same. If we are identical, then you will be happy for me to treated you as I want to be treated. If we are different, for me to use myself as my primary guide to understanding you and your needs is to overlook all our separate journeys and perspectives. To do so also carries the implication that if you are not like me, you should be. 

Instead, a radically accepting and inclusive culture needs what has been called the platinum rule: treat others as they would want to be treated. And this rule is by far the harder one - it is the rule that leads us to connect and learn and understand and grow together.

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