Trust in the Balance

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Chalice lighting

We gather today to find connection
We gather today to give and receive
We gather today to love
The road to our community is paved with trust
It is this that makes the journey possible
May this light help us to dare to trust.


Reading: For the Sleepwalkers, by Edward Hirsch

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.
And always they wake up as themselves again.
That's why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.
Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests.
We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds
and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.


Message part 1: by Rev. Andy Pakula

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about building projects. New Unity has two going on right now. There’s the big one at the Newington Green Meeting House that will go on until early next year. That work is funded by what is now known as the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF).

There’s also a smaller one at the Upper Street building where a commercial kitchen has been installed and floors are about to be refinished - all thanks to a grant from the Veolia Environmental Trust.

If you’ve ever been involved with a building project of any sort, you probably know that there are some big issues around trust.

I was speaking with one of the contractors the other day. Let’s call him “Bob the builder”. He explained to me that he never advertises, and gets more business than he needs through word of mouth. Bob says that his work is so good and that he is so reliable that past customers regularly sing his praises and recommend him to anyone they know who is thinking of having work done.

One time, he said, his team had done up a house and the owner was ready to move back in when Bob went to check it out first. He was outraged when he saw the tiling. It was not up to his standards and he insisted that his team redo it at no additional cost. The owner, he said, thought the work was fine and wanted to move back in. Bob insisted. The tiling was ripped out and redone.

Bob was telling me that he was a person to be trusted - that he would never allow shoddy work, cut corners, or overcharge. He would be honest and his work would always be impeccable. He would be true to his word.

I was impressed with his story but I had some lingering doubts. It seemed too good, too rehearsed, too deliberate. I thought I might just distrust him because of his stories saying that I should trust him.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of builders doing less than promised, taking much longer than promised, and outright lying about the standard of their work. They evade the noise regulations, make life hell for neighbours, understate the disruption they will cause, fail to clean up after themselves, and dump rubble illegally. Anything to save themselves time and money.

In the Islington building project, there were three contractors. They each blamed the others for anything that went wrong. They each wanted to say they could be trusted but that one or both of the others could not.

Was Bob the builder to be trusted over the other two? Oh, my dear Bob with his great story and his friendly engaging ways.

And maybe all this means that you shouldn’t trust anyone. Maybe the best approach to life is to assume that everyone is lying - then you won’t get burned. It seems like the safe way to be.

The project at the Meeting House is set up in such a way that there is always someone looking over everyone’s shoulder. There are project managers to make sure that everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to and when they are supposed to. And there are people overseeing the project managers. It’s set up in a way that avoids any need for trust.

Recently, two double cabinets in my kitchen disintegrated and everything crashed and smashed and spilled all over the floor. This probably happened because the builders who renovated the flat 12 years ago were not worthy of trust. For years, I’ve been finding the shortcuts they took, the holes they left, the shoddy work they did.

So, after Miriam and I cleaned up the mess, we needed new cabinets installed. I mentioned to Bob what had happened and he suggested that one of his guys could do the job. I said yes. I didn’t ask for a price. And when his carpenter came in, he told me the plaster had had it and needed to be replaced. I didn’t get other opinions. I said OK. They showed me everything, told me what they were doing and when and why and I said good.

Bob said it’s going to cost a lot because of the need to strip the old plaster and replaster and decorate. It would be over £500 - and I said OK. I had decided to trust him and his team. I didn’t get approval from New Unity, trusting that our organisation would pay me back for a reasonable repair.

I chose trust over mistrust partly because I didn’t want to spend the extra time it would take to get other builders in. More importantly, I didn’t want to live with the emotional negativity of assuming dishonesty and watching for ways that Bob might have been tricking me. Living mistrustful is exhausting and it is a poison that seeps into your other thoughts and makes it hard to trust anywhere. 

I got the bill for £600. It seemed reasonable. I’m glad I trusted.


Reading: Trust, by Thomas R. Smith

It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.


Message, part 2: by Rev. Andy Pakula

We live in a place and in a system that encourages mistrust.

London is a place where even if you know lots and lots of people - even if you are the most social person around, and even if you count your Facebook friends in there - the people you know will only make up about one one-hundredth of one percent of the London population. 99.99% of other Londoners will remain strangers. You live amid a sea of strangers. How can you trust?

On top of that, our lives have been infused with the culture of commerce and consumerism. I give you something and you give me something in exchange. You expect a guarantee. I expect payment in full. You expect me to try to get as much of your money as possible for my product. I expect you to try to pay as little as you can. Either of us will take action if this agreement is violated. Neither of us expects any more of the other than is spelled out in the small print.

Everything is based on contracts where we detail what each party is required to do.

You go into a clothing shop, try something on, and ask the salesperson how it looks on you. How likely is it that they will be honest rather than being motivated solely by the desire to make a sale? They might even say this other one would look better on you - this lovely jumper made of the finest wool from pampered sheep - the jumper which, by the way, costs twice as much.

It becomes almost impossible to imagine having a trusting relationship in the daily exchanges - a relationship where you can ask for advice and can believe it is honest and not just self-serving.

So we have plenty of reason to mistrust. We have reason to mistrust just about everyone. And the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to live like that - to live with suspicion of all - to live in a mode of regulated exchanges rather than with assumptions of honesty and decency.

We may think that we will only trust those people we know we can trust, but mistrust does not allow itself to be contained so well. The mistrust we have for the salesperson and the stranger on the bus colours how we see the rest of our world.

The greatest problem with mistrust is that it destroys any potential for deep relationship. When we can’t trust, we enter into relationships wearing a suit of armour to prevent being hurt. That armour hides our secret fears and sorrows. It feels safe, but two suits of armour clunking into each other does not make for a satisfying hug. Vulnerability can be frightening, but deep relationship with true compassion and love is impossible without it.

“Oh, poor stupid naive Andy,” you may be thinking. “You can’t just go around trusting everyone!”

And you’re right. You can’t. We must strike a balance and evaluate each situation. The safest, armoured, mistrustful extreme leaves us unable to love. The most vulnerable trusting opposite extreme makes us too easily a target of con-artists and others who want nothing but to use our money or our love for their own benefit.

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.” This was the advice of Frank Crane, an early 20th century writer. The torment that arises from mistrust is the constant emotional tension it brings and the absence of love that is its consequence.

Balanced trust is built on knowledge and understanding. We might tend to think of trust as binary: either I can trust you completely or I can’t trust you at all. But this is wrong. Imagine I left my wallet on a table and you were the only person in the room. Would you take the cash and pocket it?

OK, what if you hadn’t eaten in two days because you had no money? What if your child was starving? What if you were £10 away from being able to have shelter for your family tonight rather than sleeping on the street or in a dangerous shelter?

We all have different thresholds for when we will break trust and why. The more we understand another person, the better we understand this.

For strangers who we don’t know or understand, we have to do some guessing and think of how most people are. Most people will not steal unless they are desperate or if the benefit is enormous.

Someone recently broke something of mine in the office and hid the broken side against the wall and the pieces underneath. I believe this was a decent trustworthy person, but something happened in their life that makes them afraid of getting caught for this. That doesn’t mean they can’t be trusted. It means they can’t be trusted to tell everyone they broke something that looks like it might have sentimental value.

As we get to know someone deeply and understand them, we learn where we can and cannot trust them. No one can be trusted under every circumstance, and everyone can be trusted under some circumstances.

If I learn that my friend is terribly afraid of hurting my feelings, I will not trust him to give me a true answer when I ask if he liked today’s message. He will also learn my fears and needs, and know where he can and cannot trust me.

There is quite a challenge here though. No one will let you know their truths until they trust you, and they won’t trust you unless you are open with them.

In order to trust someone you must know them well, but in order to get to know someone well you must trust them. You can’t stand around in your suit of armour and wait for others to walk up to you emotionally naked before you are willing to put down your sword and remove your helmet.

And so, we must risk for trust. The more we trust others, the more we will be deceived but the more we will be trusted in return – and the more we will find understanding and love.

Giving trust grows trust.

Giving trust grows understanding.

Giving trust grows love.

Closing words

There are good reasons not to trust
We are safer if we do not
We are less likely to be cheated if we do not
We are more protected from heartbreak if we do not
But trust is the key that opens the door to more trust
To understanding
And to love
Open the door
Take a chance on trust
Take a chance for love