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Bank Street Unitarian Chapel

Open Hearts Open Minds

Minister’s Letter
September's Theme:
Earth

though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe...

A.R. Ammons

A few weeks ago I went to Southport and walked along the beach, feeling the sun and the wind on my skin, and smelling the sea (visible on the horizon). I walked along the sand dunes and then back through the squelching muddy sand. It was exhilarating. It is truly amazing the places you can get to a few rail stops from Bolton. You can reach beautiful countryside and coasts, hills, lakes, mountains, just down the road.

Like many people I find the divine in nature. I experience the world as a temple and fresh air as full of the holy Spirit. This is a universal human experience, but also a distinctly Unitarian spirituality. At least as far back as the American Henry David Thoreau we have seen being in nature as an important part of our spiritual lives. In the summer of 1845 Thoreau started a two year experiment in simple living by living in a small shack next to Walden Pond in the woods of Massachusetts. He wrote about it in his book Walden which is a classic in both science and spirituality. Today we know that spending time in nature, whether out in the woods, or simply in a small garden, is an important spiritual practice.

But an equally important spiritual practice is sacred activism. Nature is going through a massive crisis with impending climate change and only a concerted, massive effort to change our politics and economics will change that. This month we are hosting three series of talks on the climate change crisis, related to science, activism, and faith (see in this Calendar for more details). These are important events in the life of our Chapel, putting our values into action and creating an important conversation here in Bolton. Please support them as much as you can, and invite others. A faith based on love of nature is today needed more than ever.

In peace and love.

Stephen

 

Spiritual Practices of the Month
Sauntering: Take time to wander in nature in an aimless, gentle way. Notice the air, the smells, the life around you. This can be done in the hills or simply in your garden.
Litter picking: Commit to picking up one piece of litter every day this month.
Reduce your carbon footprint: Try using your car less, or eating less meat.

Theme Resources
Books (non-fiction):
Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A classic text, but not necessarily an easy read.
The Ethic of a Reverence for Life by Albert Schweitzer (available online at www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-c/schweitzer01.htm) An ethics essay from the early twentieth century that has influenced many.
The Greening of Christianity by Lloyd Geering. Booklet exploring ecological Christianity.
Laudato Si': On Care for our Common Home by Pope Francis. A key text from the Roman Catholic Pope on the need for response to the ecological crisis.
Film (documentaries):
Chasing Ice (2012) Follow National Geographic photographer James Balog across the Arctic as he deploys time-lapse cameras designed for one purpose: to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006). Al Gore's lecture on climate change.
Film (for children):
Fern Gully - The Last Rainforest (1992). The Fern Gully rainforest is endangered. Only Chrysta, a little fairy can save this magical world from the evil Hexxus.

 Think For Yourself

 

Think For Yourself

Yes - think!

Use your brain, question everything, have doubts.

The Unitarian faith doesn't ask you to believe - it asks you to doubt, to be curious, to ask questions.

Because the truth is bigger than any one set of beliefs.

Because religion should open your mind, not close it down.

We are the religion of the open mind.

 

A Short Reflection for St George's Day

based on words delivered by Stephen Lingwood

on 23rd April 2017

 

If you're ever in Manchester Anglican Cathedral I would strongly recommend that you make your way to the back of the cathedral and into the tiny Fraser Chapel. That is the place I always head when I go there. In this tiny space there is a single pew and an altar, and at the back of the altar is a piece of art.

It's called the Trinity Reredos by the contemporary artist Mark Cazalet and it was installed in the cathedral in 2001. On one side of reredos is an image of St Denys, and in the centre is a depiction of the Trinity. Those images are both very interesting and worth contemplating. But today, I want us to think about the image on the left: the image of St George.

St George, a modern Englishman, a black Englishman, wearing an England football shirt, is seen breaking the chains of the dragon. The dragon does not look fierce or scary, but sad, world-weary, weighed down. George liberates the dragon.

I don't know what that image might mean for you. I think it's worth thinking about. I find it a refreshing twist on an old story.

Today is St George's Day, the patron saint of England, the national day of England. And I think this is not an opportunity we should let slip by to celebrate England and the English. We should not give up this day to the racists and the fascists. This is our day, and we should not hesitate to celebrate a progressive, open and compassionate vision of our country.

There are good reasons for doing so. We should celebrate today that St George is an immigrant. We know almost nothing about the real man we call St George, but we know for certain that he wasn't born in England. St George is an immigrant to this country, and we should today celebrate an England that has been defined by immigration from the very beginning. Englishness is defined by immigration, not some sense of racial purity.

St George is also the patron saint of Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Portugal, Lithuania, Greece and Germany! Today we can celebrate an Englishness that is internationalist and open to the world.

The English people have been great pioneers of democracy, slowly fighting for the right to vote for more and more people. Chartists, Suffragettes, and others provide us with the stories that tell us about Englishness.

But mainly today I want to return us to the image of George and the dragon from the Mark Cazelet piece. Here is an image of the icon of England acting with compassion. I believe at its best this country is a compassionate country. Though it has been harder to believe that in recent years and months.

Where has our compassion gone? As we turn away refugee children, as those who are different have suffered abuse and attack, as we align ourselves with the worst extremists and despots around the world, where has our compassion gone?

I believe we are better than this. My prayer this day, is that England follows this George. That we set the captives free, bind up the broken-hearted, and live by compassion.

Minister’s Letter

May's Theme: Beauty

God must get hungry for us; why is He not also a lover who wants His lovers near?

Beauty is my teacher helping me to know He cares for me.

Hafiz

 

As the years pass I find myself more and more interested in beauty. Previously I have viewed religion as more about truth and goodness. It is about those things. It is important to seek truth and to work for a better world. More than ever, and in this time of political turmoil, we need to be doing all we can for a peaceful and just society. In this election campaign we need to be asking our politicians what they are doing to create peace and justice.

But more than ever I think we're missing something if we're not also pursuing beauty. It is not just that we want a better world, we also want a beautiful world. And we want to save the beauty that exists in this world: the beauty of the natural world, the beauty of people who are fully alive living in joy, the beauty of art and music that touches the soul.

Beauty does something to us. As we reach out to it, somehow, it also reaches out to us. Beauty moves us in a way nothing else can. It shows us the way to God in the way that nothing else can. Somehow, when we are overwhelmed with beauty we find ourselves meeting the divine. May we be open to that meeting.

In peace and love,

Stephen

 

 

 

Theme Resources

Books (non-fiction):

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and and Ted Orland. Short book honestly exploring the creative process and the fear that stops us from creating art. The ideas in this book can be applied to many different tasks in life.

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master edited by Daniel Ladinsky. Translated in an accessible and modern style this is a large collection of ecstatic love songs to God.

Films:

Life is Beautiful/ La vita è bella. Award winning Italian comedy drama about a father shielding his son from the horrors of a concentration camp. Rated PG.

American Beauty. Drama about a suburban American family where, spurred by forbidden passions, the father begins to dramatically change his life. Rated 18 with strong adult themes.

Minister’s Letter

April's Theme: Compassion

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Jesus of Nazareth

As we approach the festival of Easter we know that many Christians are thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This story is often re-enacted in passion plays. There's not a passion play in Bolton this year as there has been in some previous years, but there is going to be one in Manchester. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of things. To be honest I find them to be a bit gruesome. And as a Unitarian my faith is not rooted in the passion of Jesus. Rather what's more important is the compassion of Jesus.

Passion means pain/suffering and com-passion means being alongside another in their suffering. Compassion is feeling the pain of another and reaching out to alleviate that pain. Jesus put this at the heart of his teaching and explained what it meant by telling a story of someone beaten up at the side of the road. One passing person, a Samaritan, felt compassion, and reached out a helping hand. "Go, and do likewise," says Jesus.

The death of three-year old Alan Kurdi, the tiny body washed up a Turkish beach in 2015 made us all feel that com-passion, that pain striking into our hearts. The refugee crisis continues today, still demanding our compassion, our feeling-with, and our acting-with. One way we can stop this happening again is giving to our Lent charity, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station in Malta, who have already rescued 30,000 people from the Mediterranean. They continue to operate search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. This is one small way we continue to follow the way of compassion.

In peace and love,

Stephen

 

Theme Resources

Book (non-fiction): Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. Taking as a starting point the teachings of the major world religions Karen Armstrong demonstrates in twelve practical steps how we can bring compassion into our lives.

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