“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Sunday, 30 November 2014

My Unexpected Friday

Over the last few months, an old friend and I have established a very pleasant routine. We meet at 10.30 am on the last Friday of the month for coffee and cake in town, and spend an enjoyable couple of hours exchanging news about our lives - the books we've read, how our respective jobs are going, and how our husbands and children-no-longer-children are doing. It is a very civilised custom.

So this Friday just gone (28th), I innocently drove into town, and was surprised to have to go all the way up to Level 4 of my normal car park, instead of finding a space further down. But I put it down to the imminence of Christmas - maybe people were trying to get their present shopping done before the rush.

I had read about Black Friday on Facebook, but had genuinely not appreciated the fact that the British retail industry and the media between them had persuaded the gullible British public to buy into this quintessentially American Day (we do not, after all, celebrate Thanksgiving).

So my friend and I enjoyed our usual coffee and chat, after which I wandered into M&S to spend a voucher I had recently been given by generous friends.

Which was when the penny finally dropped, and I realised that Black Friday had come to the UK. There was a very good sale in the Per Una section of M&S, and I picked up three items of clothing for the usual price of one, which was very satisfactory. And although it was quite busy, it was not manic.

It was not until I got home and logged onto Facebook that I realised what kind of collective insanity had apparently taken hold of a large section of the British population. Shocking scenes of people fighting over (and *with*) 42" TVs were being reported. It was like the Boxing Day sales had come early and madly.

You may think it hypocritical of me to comment, as I benefited from Black Friday myself. My defence is that it was purely accidental, and that I only spent the voucher I had been given, which I would have spent that day anyway.

The question I am left with is why?

Why have British retailers decided to import this American custom, at a time of year when a lot of people are buying stuff for Christmas anyway, at full price?

Why are British people so willing to be influenced by the media? Yes, I get that there were some very good bargains to be had, but fighting in the aisles? Over consumer goods?

It makes me sad that, as somebody remarked on Facebook, if you camp out for a social justice issue (remember Occupy a few years ago?) you are seen as a leftie drop-out, but if you buy into a media-induced retail frenzy, losing your veneer of civilisation along the way, that is perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Big Brother Is Alive and Well

The other evening, I was relaxing with my significant other, after a very busy weekend, idly leafing through the paper. When my attention was caught by a headline on the front of the Weekend section (we buy one paper on a Saturday, and it lasts us all week). It read: "Teenwatch: How to spy on your children."

The article, which I read with mounting horror, explained about new technology that parents can use, to "keep kids under surveillance 24/7", including software that can monitor their online lives, including monitoring and reading calls and texts and e-mails, looking at their browsing history online, hidden CCTV cameras around the house (even in the teenagers' bedrooms - ewww!), electronic wristbands that they have to wear when they are out of the house in the evening (like tagging prisoners) and an app called Ignore No More, which "disables their phones remotely if they do not answer me." There is even a device marketed by Teenwatch, which you attach to your teenager's car, and can monitor if he/she brakes sharply or swerves. (I've checked on Google, and these apps are Real!)

Oh. My. God. Even Orwell could not have dreamt this stuff up. What in God's name is going on? I shared some of the article with my husband, and he was as shocked and horrified as I am. I mean, what the blimmin' heck happened to respect for privacy? To trust? Do these parents *really* not realise that all they are doing is making their children hate them, and wish to deceive them? If we had ever tried any of this on our two (not that I would ever have dreamed of it) I am *sure* they would have left home / tried every way possible to get round the devices (for example, by buying a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile for use, and not sharing the number).

Or if the children are accepting this, because they too have bought into the lie that we live in a terrifying world in which nobody can be trusted, then that is even worse. I tremble for the future, if this is what it is going to look like ...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Poppies for Remembrance and for Resolution

Throughout the country on Sunday, and yesterday, people wore a poppy to mark Remembrance Sunday / Armistice Day. It is one of the most potent symbols we have. I wore two poppies on both days - one red, and one white. And I would like to explain why. What colour poppy you wear, and indeed, whether you wear a poppy at all, seems to have become more and more politicised in recent years, which I find very sad.

 The red poppy is the more traditional one, sold by the Royal British Legion throughout the land. According to their current publicity, by buying and wearing a red poppy, the wearer is choosing to help bereaved families, wounded service men and women, younger veterans seeking employment and housing, and older veterans needing age-related care, to Live On.

And that is great, and I would support all those aims. I believe that we should honour the fallen, from all wars, and from all countries. In the words of Chris Goacher, "We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others." But I believe that we also need to find a better answer to the question posed by Canon Dick Sheppard, in 1936: "Of what would they wish us to think? Not that they were heroes; not that there was any special virtue in the manner of their dying; not of the tragedy of youth snuffed out; not even that we loved them, and still remember. They would wish us to think of what they died for."

The dead of the First World War died in a "war to end all wars." And yet, twenty years later, precisely because of the way the politicians made the peace after 1918, Europe and the world were embroiled in war once again, and all the sacrifice came to naught.

I am a pacifist, but I do believe that part of the meaning of Remembrance Sunday is that we should also remember the men and women who are currently serving in the armed forces, the world over, and acknowledge the high price they pay to defend us. Many do not return, and of those who do, many bear the physical and mental scars of conflict for the rest of their lives. And so do their families. And that deserves my respect.

What I am not so happy about is the adoption of the symbol of the red poppy by far-right organisations such as Britain First, or about the cynical fashion in which the present government is using it to make themselves look good. Nor about the underlying nationalism that has come to be associated with it. Nor am I happy about folk being criticised for not wearing one - surely it should be a matter of conscience? After all, nobody is criticised for not wearing (for example) a pink ribbon to support breast cancer awareness, or a Pudsey Bear badge to support Children in Need, so why should the poppy be different?

The white poppy is a symbol of peace. White Poppies for Peace made their first appearance on Armistice Day in 1933. With the rising domestic and international tensions at the time, concern grew that the war to end all wars, in which so many had died, would now be followed by an even worse war. The white poppy was an expression of that concern, and became a symbol of our inability to settle conflicts without resorting to killing, but more importantly, a symbol of hope and commitment to work for a world where better, more peaceful answers could be found. The white poppy’s aim is to promote debate and rally support for resistance to war. And as Secretary of the Unitarian Peace Fellowship, I am proud to wear my white poppy.

Some Unitarians today also wear a purple poppy. These are sold by Animal Aid, who explain "Throughout history, animals have suffered and died as a result of human conflicts. Animals killed as a result of human conflict are not heroes but victims. They do not give their lives, their lives are taken." I honour this position too, and may well wear a purple poppy next year, alongside the red and white.

The point of all this is, it doesn't matter so much what colour poppy you wear. What matters is whether wearing one and remembering the fallen, makes you want to work for a better world, in which veterans are looked after and respected, and governments really try to work for peace, instead of reaching for war as an off-the-shelf solution to the latest international problem.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Belief and Faith

"Belief" and "faith" are two words that are much used in religious circles.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines belief as "trust or confidence (in); acceptance of any received theology; acceptance (of thing, fact, statement, etc.) as true or existing."

It defines faith as "1. reliance on or trust in; belief founded on authority. 2. (Theol.) belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character and conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof; system of religious belief."

So are they much of a muchness? Well, no, according to a fascinating book I've been reading this week, called Writing the Sacred Journey. The author, Elizabeth J. Andrew, points out that what you believe and how you orient your life (what you put your faith in) can be two very different things. She writes: "Belief can be an extension of faith, but it can also exist in our heads and our verbalised convictions, quite separate from the true alignment of our hearts."

To take an example from my own life, I believe that our planet is endangered because of our profligate use of, well, just about everything, but I do not always make the most eco-friendly choices when I'm shopping, perhaps because I'm in  a hurry, or it's less convenient, or the greener product is more expensive. In which case, my actions are contrary to my stated beliefs.

I think that this is an important distinction to make, and to be aware of, as for me, the whole point of our spiritual and religious journey is to move towards living as authentically as we can, in accordance with our most deeply held beliefs and values. Whenever we *say* that we believe something or believe in  something, but our actions are quite different, there is a dissonance between belief and faith, and we are not living authentically, as I believe that God / the Spirit wants us to.