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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Multiculturalism out there and in here

The other kind of multiculturalism is about inclusion. It’s the opposite of enforced sameness.
It’s about making room for people whose cultures are different from the dominant culture of the nation. It’s about acceptance - accepting people as they are. And this, I think, is at the heart of what multiculturalism must mean - whether in a nation or a congregation. Wherever we come from, whoever we are, we are accepted as we are. We are not doused in preservative so we never change or isolated in our little impervious corners - we know that interchange between cultures will make us all the richer - in nations or in congregations.

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Hiroshima & Nagasaki - Culture can kill

Culture matters. When we consider whether we will have a world of conflict or a world of peace, there are many factors, but culture matters.  If we want to live in a world where all human life is valued equally - culture matters.  

When we consider how we treat others in times of disagreement or conflict - whether we will try to understand or lash out - whether we are ready to forgive or seek vengeance - culture matters. Culture is not the only thing that matters, but it is part of the picture. For good and for ill, for peace and for conflict, we are shaped by all our experiences. But culture is a special kind of experience and influence. It is like the air we breathe - it is invisible and it is everywhere. It influences us without our noticing. It is part of us whether we recognise it or not. And if we don’t recognise it is there, culture has more power over us.

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Whose Culture?

The dominant culture of a community tends to be invisible to many of its members. It is invisible especially to the people whose personal cultural norms fit. They don’t feel any disconnect or clash with their values or ways of being, so they don’t see there is a culture at all.

The future of New Unity depends on us asking ourselves hard and perhaps uncomfortable questions about who we are, who we are for, what we want to achieve, and who we are willing to leave out.

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My Muslim Culture

Two days ago, I learned that Abdul Sattar Edhi had died at the age of 88. If you don’t know who he is, I strongly urge you to find out more about him. Edhi spent close to six decades singlehandedly building Pakistan’s largest welfare organisation, and to date his foundation has saved and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of the country’s most vulnerable citizens through his ambulance service, nursing homes, orphanages, clinics, maternity wards, morgues, homes for the elderly, women's shelters, rehabilitation centres and soup kitchens... for all my narcissistic talk on identity politics and the mechanics of assimilation in my own experience, I bring this up because Edhi’s example is the answer I’d like to give to the question of what my Islam is; selfless, defiant and compassionate. (QS)

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Got Culture

Got Culture

We have a culture. Some of us fit into the culture perfectly - so much so that we may not notice it exists. Others find they have to contort themselves a bit or a lot tofit. Some of you may feel you need to put on a particular mask when you come here. You may sense that you need to put aside their own cultural norms to conform to “the way we do things around here”?

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It just is, but it is important that we are aware of it. It’s important that we examine the part of our culture that lies beneath the surface and understand the impact of that culture.

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