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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Enjoy the World or Change the World?

Enjoy the World or Change the World?

Ours is a world of love and a world of hate. A world of compassion and a world of cruelty. A world of great joy and extreme sorrow. A world of conception and a world of killing. A world of nurturing and a world of neglect. I want to ask how we are to live in such a world. Too often, we find ourselves in a dilemma: the ugliness of the world keeps us from happiness. The distress we feel leaves us unable to act to better the world.

Truly living means opening ourselves up - being sensitive and susceptible to all of life - its wonders and its terrors. Let us be tender and open to the world - to all it brings. Only then will be have the ability to truly savour this world and to save it.

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Celebrate for Happiness

Celebrate for Happiness

It is not only the case that our lives have more joy when we can celebrate the small achievements of the journey. It is also true that celebration at each milestone gives us the motivation to go further.

If you want to be happy and want to succeed in your goals, stop focusing only on your big goal and enjoy the journey. There is so much opportunity for joy and satisfaction along the way. The destination is necessary but don’t miss the journey because of it.

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Mindful of Happiness

Mindful of Happiness

Mindfulness is more than just focus alone. It is focus on the mind itself - watching a beginning to have a greater awareness of the process of our emotions and our thoughts. And this awareness is the beginning of the ability to shape the direction our thoughts take - whether toward the present moment or the past or future. Whether toward gratitude or toward irritation.

Mindfulness on its own though could be harsh - I see a thought and say ‘bad thought!’; I notice an emotion and judge myself for feeling that way. For happiness, mindfulness must be accompanied by self-compassion. I see the thoughts cross my mind and even though they may be anxious or angry feelings I want to push away, I offer myself care, I respond with gentle caring. The emotions rise and I respond in that kindly way I would offer to a loved one rather than the harsh reaction we sometimes direct at ourselves.

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Happiness & Helping Others

Happiness & Helping Others

Helping helps the helper. Of course, if done right, it helps the helped too, but there is something very special about helping others that makes us happier. In fact, the benefit is not only to the helper’s happiness level. Helping others benefits overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying from any cause. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week. Volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!

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The Barriers to Happiness

The Barriers to Happiness

We put obstacles in the way of our own happiness. We don’t do it deliberately. We do it because someone told us to. We do it because we are afraid. We do it because we don’t love ourselves enough. We do it because we have been hurt so badly that we can’t get over it without help. We build a wall that keeps us from the thing we most want - happiness. May the wall you have built against happiness fall. May true happiness be yours and may it cause you to be someone who brings great happiness to others.

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Can You Love You?

Can You Love You?

It is easy to say ‘accept yourself’ and ‘love yourself.’  Doing it is something else entirely. For some reason, we have a tendency to be much harder on ourselves than we would ever be with a friend. And because we are so quick to condemn, we feel was must deny or hide away what we see as our imperfections. The first step to self-acceptance and self-love is to be honest with yourself. You have plenty of flaws. We all do! Being flawed is part of being human. Recognise them. Count them. List them. You may find that they seem smaller and fewer when you look at them honestly than they seem when you are busy pushing them away. They seem huge in your peripheral vision but shrink when you look at them head on.

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The Happy Hermit

The Happy Hermit

Happiness is not made of pleasure. It is not built by knitting together one pleasurable experience after another.  It depends on the development of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. It requires that we become comfortable with ourselves - not in preparation of being a happy hermit but as part of the path to becoming a person who can love others open-heartedly and without losing ourselves. Only when we know and accept ourselves can we find true happiness in a life of purpose, meaning, and deep relationship with other lives.

This week, I hope you will make some time to be alone with your own thoughts. Turn off the music or the podcast. Put away the phone. Put down the book. Sit quietly or walk without distraction. Listen to your own thoughts. Take time to get to know yourself. Take time to grow happy.

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The Discomfort of a Happy Life

The Discomfort of a Happy Life

A lot of the figures in our culture that we’re supposed to look up to seem to be having a pretty happy life. Celebrities are beautiful and smiling and moving about the world with ease. We don’t see them covered in tearful snot eating crumpets in front of the telly. I’m sure they do though. Even Beyonce.

Remembering not to feel bad about feeling bad is a gamechanger. Knowing that some days all you can do is stay under a blanket and eat crumpets and stick on the telly and watch four more episodes of the Crown, and that’s exactly the right thing to do. Noticing it’s a bad day and gently taking care of yourself. Not adding the ‘woe is me, I shall never be happy again’ layer of self-punishment on the top.

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