The Waning of Warfare

The Waning of Warfare

Steven Pinker - a Harvard professor of psychology and prolific author - contends that violence has declined over the history of humankind. In his 6th book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker lays out the case for the bend toward justice. He writes ‘violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence. The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is an unmistakable development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.’

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Evolution and Revolution: How Things Change

Evolution and Revolution: How Things Change

We are living at a time when people are turning more and more toward leaders who promise to ignore the complexity and make decisions on their own. People are voting for them. This is a time when many feel like the world is changing too fast. Changes in population. Changes in power. Changes in sexual and gender norms. All of these things frighten them. And they want conservative change - they want to go back to what they were comfortable with and they are frustrated by the slowness of checks and balances and giving everyone a say. When there’s enough anxiety about change and enough frustration - resolute, decisive, and even dictatorial decision-making becomes appealing to some. They seek a revolutionary change in how things work if not a full-fledged revolution. We should always remember that powerless, fearful, frustrated people are likely to undertake radical action.

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Black and British: Those Who Came Before

Black and British: Those Who Came Before

Being subject to racism for generations means a lack of opportunities. It means having greater obstacles put in front of you than others. And then it means blaming you for your lack of progress. And when you’ve been told enough times that you will never get ahead, that you are not good enough, and that you should give up, it has an enormous negative impact on children and adults. It is a way to destroy the optimism and potential of a culture.

A terrible past has created great disadvantages in the present. Let us help to create a future where the debt this nation owes to African heritage people is paid in a way that creates justice.

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Turning Points

Turning Points

We each have the opportunity for a turning point many many times in our lives. We can choose what new experiences we will have. They may lead to light dispelling the darkness. They may lead to a new perspective. They may break down barriers to love and understanding.

Turning points are rarely painless. They usually involve deep discomfort even if we have chosen them. When they happen to us against our will, this can be even more so. Turning is so hard because to do it we give up the comfort and safety of the familiar and the expected.

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Our Journeys Through Time

Our Journeys Through Time

Many of us are not very conscious of the paths we travel as we become who we are. We may not even notice how we are changing and we’re even less likely to connect the dots to what has caused us to change. We don’t recognise how we became good at this or fearful about that. How did we get be compassionate, outgoing, anxious, self-centred, driven, passive, assertive, angry, biased, open-minded, religious, sceptical, artistic, timid, or adventurous?

So, how did we get here? How did we become these people we are?

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Time and Technology

Time and Technology

I’d like you to think about some of the ways you really love to spend your time—not things you do on holiday, but things you might get to do on an average day if you’re really lucky. For me, these things are reading a good book, learning something new, spending time with my wife or talking to my niece on skype, or making something. I don’t do these things nearly as often as I’d like to, but I’m getting better at making time for them. And today I’m going to talk about how the way I spend my time and the way I think about my time has changed over the past few years.

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When Reconciliation Is Impossible

When Reconciliation Is Impossible

Difficult things happen between human beings. Some of them can not be reconciled. There are acts so unforgivable that reconciliation is not possible. Relationship can become so hostile and vicious that there can be no turning back. Sometimes it is about safety: It can be abusive to suggest - as some religions have - that abusers should be given another chance and another and another. This is asking the abused party - usually a woman - to put their sanity, their health, and their very life in danger. Even without danger, how many times should one forgive and try again after being mistreated again and again. There are also those times when, even if we could imagine the potential for reconciliation, it becomes impossible because of distance or death.

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Rebuilding Relationships

Rebuilding Relationships

This Wednesday is the Jewish "Day of Atonement" - in Hebrew, it is known as Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is Judaism’s response to our need to reconcile our personal aspirations with the reality of our actions. On Yom Kippur, Jews pray and fast all day, and acknowledge their failures over the previous year. Yom Kippur provides – as does the Christian practice of confession – a ritualised way to deal with the fact that we know we have not been the people we intended to be. Holding onto this secret shame causes us pain, it makes us feel we need to hide our true selves away. Releasing it is actually a relief.

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You Are Not Who You Were

You Are Not Who You Were

Change is hard. Is it harder than hard? Is it impossible? Can we change at all? Sure, we know we can change some behaviours. Sometimes, we really do succeed in drinking less or exercising more. We might even keep our inboxes clear - at least for a while. But is all our hope of being able to change in more profound ways completely unrealistic?

For many years, researchers threw cold water on the prospect of deep-seated change. They concluded that, after adolescence, our core personality traits are fixed and nearly unchangeable. More recently, new studies have suggested that this claim is incorrect - that we can, in fact change in major ways. Some studies have even concluded that relatively short periods of therapy - therapy of almost any kind - can result in significant and long-live changes in our personalities. Other events and transitions in our lives do change us.

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Reconciling Ambivalence

Reconciling Ambivalence

If grief has taught me anything, it is that if we can live in love and gratitude now, then we honour ourselves, and the relationships we have with those both living and lost, in the highest possible way. And if we can gently make peace with our conflicting emotions, and allow them to sit without shame or judgement, then we can develop deeper compassion, both for ourselves, and for those around us.

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Reconciling With Science

Reconciling With Science

The universe does not care either way about me or us. Nature did not evolve to look out for our health and well-being. It is not true, as many people like to say, that everything happens for a reason. This reality is also empowering. Instead of being planned and preordained, the future is up to us: we human beings have the responsibility and the power to make the future we want to see. It is not preordained. The universe doesn’t have a plan. A deity doesn’t control it. It is in our hands and all those young ones who come after us with their hope and strength. Together, let us continue to build a world of ever-greater love and justice.

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Reconciliation Without Surrender

Reconciliation Without Surrender

I’ll spare you the details of how the conflict evolved. The sneering continued for a while - on my part at least. And then, after time passed, we did the British male equivalent of a friendly gesture - we nodded to each other. And then, he and his partner accepted parcels that arrived for us when no one was in and they were friendly when they gave them to us. Eventually, I complimented him on some DIY work he had done. We had a very brief but friendly exchange and he touched my arm in a warm way. It was over. We both smiled warmly. We were reconciled.

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You Are Much More Than the Worst Thing You've Ever Done

You Are Much More Than the Worst Thing You've Ever Done

There is probably no one - even amongst our greatest heroes and heroines - who hasn’t done wrong. If we chose to remember Martin Luther King Jr. by the worst thing he did, we would probably think of him as Martin the adulterer. We could think of Gandhi solely for his habit of sleeping naked with young girls. We would remember Abraham Lincoln, the US president who emancipated the American slaves as Abe the racist.

We are each many things. We are capable of great kindness and self-sacrifice and we are capable of selfishness and cruelty. We are defined neither by the worst nor the best thing we have ever done.

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Reconciling Money & Justice

Reconciling Money & Justice

Today we’ll be talking about something you’re not supposed to mention in church: money. As part of our quarterly theme of 'reconciliation', we’ll be looking at how to make sense of finance and faith, or cash, credit, and church, and how the two can work in tandem, if at all, to further a mission of radical love and justice.

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Retribution & Reconciliation: From Nuremberg to Johannesburg

Retribution & Reconciliation: From Nuremberg to Johannesburg

If there’s one thing that can define both Nuremberg and Johannesburg, it is that even if justice is symbolic, it is still worth pursuing. Short of having been directly affected by the Holocaust or Apartheid, the question of whether it can be enough is not ours to answer, and instead belongs to those who have memories and heritages scarred from trauma, or continue to live in a society blighted by the causative radical inequality.

Sometimes, the wrongs committed against a nation, a community, or a person may simply be too great to be contained by Truth and Reconciliation, yet at the same time, the stubborn pacifist and utilitarian within me baulks at the idea of the firing squad, and wants to keep believing in the kind of love that the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr spoke of: “We must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

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Be Bold

Be Bold

If you delay pursuing your vision and dreams because you are not yet good enough, there is a very high chance that you will never get there. You can wait around for the moment when you achieve perfection, and then start chasing your dreams, but if my experience is anything to go by, perfection is not going to come. If you want to live a meaningful life, your best bet is to start now.

We will all need to reconcile our vision and our fears again and again throughout our lives. So be bold, face your fears, and choose life. Choose to walk the maze within your heart. As the poet Leslie Takahashi Morris says, it is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.

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Reconciliation: Past, Present & Future

Reconciliation: Past, Present & Future

My mother is so much more than a mere artefact of memory. In 'A Grief Observed', CS Lewis wrote the following: “Grief is a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” For me these are the very early stages of a new journey, all winding into totally unfamiliar and unravelling landscapes. But as I begin to travel there I find I am not alone. I have the love of an amazing wife, a courageous brother and family. Friends - and this community in particular - are also joining me at different stages to listen to my stories and support me along the way to an unknown destination, somewhere in the not too distant future. But my most vital companion, sat right at the front with me now as I make my way through this long and winding valley will always be my mother, Susan Duran.

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Celebrate Our Future

Celebrate Our Future

This past week, we learned that New Unity has been awarded a major grant from the Heritage lottery Fund.

Richard and Mary would be pleased that our celebration will be followed by a workshop on racism. They would applaud the other work we do and, I think, they would urge us not only to talk about what they did and said but what we can learn from their lives about how to address today’s challenges. They would urge us to do all we can to make sure that the funds we have been given on the basis of their work contributes to building a more just world today.

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