"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Poverty, Hunger, Compassion and Empathy

There was a very large crowd of very hungry people, several thousand men, women and children. Their need for food and drink was desperate, and there seemed to be little or none available for them.
And then a little lad came shyly out of the crowd and offered his five loaves and two small fish to the leaders of the group to share amongst them all.
And the loaves and fishes were blessed and broken and shared amongst the whole crowd, who were not only satisfied but there were 12 baskets of food left over, gathered up by the helpers, so as not to waste any.
This was the reading in our Anglican churches today, and of course here is the story of the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus. It is told in all four of the gospels in the Holy Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, although the detail of the young boy appears only in John. Otherwise the stories are remarkably similar in detail, showing the importance that all four of the gospel writers attached to this miracle, and demonstrating the compassion and empathy of Jesus for the feelings of the crowds around him.
Its significance is in the sermon He preaches afterwards, in which he proclaims “I am the bread of heaven,” using the Hebrew word for God, YHWH, meaning “I am”.
And here we have the great love and compassion of God, through Jesus, for mankind, manifesting itself in the feeding of the multitudes, today as then, through us as God’s servants.
Only today the crowds that are hungry number in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, and their hunger has not been for just a day or so but for weeks and months and years, and babies are dying before mothers can travel the miles needed to reach the food sources, and the greatest tragedy is that this could all have been prevented.
Ten million people are said to be affected by the current food crisis in East Africa, and agencies and charities like Oxfam are working around the clock to provide relief where it is needed, but the problem is huge. The Chief Executive of Oxfam, Dame Barbara Stocking, was interviewed by Rachel Sylvester for The Times recently, telling us that compassion and solidarity with people is the essence of Oxfam’s hugely successful activities. And for those who criticise charities for spending too much money on administration and the like, Dame Stocking is clear that in Oxfam 83p in every pound goes on the relief work on poverty, only 10p on support costs, and 7p on the all essential fundraising. So I for one count that as jolly good value for the way my gift is used.
And she reminds us, as if any reminding is needed, that the relief of such poverty and suffering should really challenge us all and our consumerist society. This is a matter of faith for some, but a call for us all to find compassion in our souls towards all of humanity. When we can buy so much so cheaply, at whose expense are these goods made? And would it really hurt to look at our diets, when eating meat is a wasteful use of valuable grain resources? I’ve now been a vegetarian for several years, and it really is no hardship when there are so many fresh fruits and vegetables available (always watching air-miles of course – much of my food I do grow myself on my allotment – but there are many excellent farmers’ markets up and down the land even in our towns and cities and lots of imaginative land projects where more can grow their own vegetables). And a vegetarian diet of fresh healthy ingredients is infinitely cheaper than a diet heavily dependent on meat. Add to that the appalling statistic that we apparently waste 30% of our food, and there is huge potential for savings that we can redirect towards the aid agencies.
So let’s all look at ourselves a little more critically and do all we can individually to help aid efforts and to perhaps alter our consumption patterns – of food and goods – to help others.
Let’s, as the saying goes, live simply, so that others may simply live.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Healing Power of Art

How much art can you take?

Rachel Campbell-Johnston asked this in The Times 2 yesterday under the heading: “Poussin, I’ve had my fill thanks.”
The art historian T J Clark, she tells us, spent six months in front of two Poussin paintings and recorded his experiences in The Sight of Death.
This reminded me of the spiritual best selling writer and Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen who had his own reasons for spending many hours and days and months in front of a painting, in his case Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen also wrote a book about his experiences but from a healing and spiritual perspective rather than from the artistic perspective of Clark.

In his book Henri Nouwen described the effect on him of viewing for the first time a poster of Rembrandt’s painting. He had recently returned to France to spend time as a pastor for people with development or learning disabilities at L’Arche (1) community in Trosly-Breuil. Nouwen had spent a grueling lecture tour in the USA, which had left him exhausted physically and emotionally. The sight of this poster, he says, made his heart leap, and ‘set in motion a long spiritual adventure that brought me to a new understanding of my vocation and new strength to live it.’(2) Nouwen was later given the opportunity to study the original painting in depth, where it hangs in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. He described how moved he was by the depth of compassion in the father’s hands on the shoulders of the repentant son kneeling before him in worn out cloak and sandals. Over the months and years that followed, ‘Rembrandt’s embrace remained imprinted on my soul far more profoundly than any temporary expression of emotional support,’ he writes. ‘It had brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of a busy life, something that represents the ongoing yearning of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, a lasting home.’(3) Nouwen had experienced the capacity of art to heal.
It is interesting that Rembrandt was close to his death when he completed this painting in 1669, after a life of some success and wealth but also personal tragedies and grief. By this time he was a poor and lonely man. Nouwen senses in the painting an expression of the deep understanding that Rembrandt held of his own spiritual homecoming. Nouwen struggled throughout his own life with much mental anguish, with anxiety and with insecurity, but his pastoral abilities were undoubted. He gave spiritual support to many through his priestly ministry and through his books, many of which, including this book on Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, are still bestsellers today. Something beautiful and life affirming was speaking to Nouwen from the picture and his ability to convey that on to his reader is very powerful indeed.

Two quotes spring to mind:

"Through Art we can see deep truths that are otherwise invisible. In great works of art we feel the deepest yearnings of our Heart and glimpse the shimmering revelations of our Spirit."
Dana Lynne Andersen (4)

"Creating a work of art is not a harmless thing. It always is a powerful medium. Art is extraordinarily powerful and important. It challenges people’s lives."
Chögyam Trungpa (5)

There is indeed nothing neutral about creative force. We can use it as a source of inspiration and healing for ourselves and for those around us. Or it has the power to hurt or corrupt, to disturb or destroy. We cannot escape its impact; creativity is an integral part of our lives. We surely have a responsibility to be mindful of this as we go about our daily lives.

1. L’Arche International Communities ,L’Arche USA and L’Arche UK

2. Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1994, Darton, Longman and Todd, p. 3.
3. Ibid., p. 5.
4. Dana Lynne Andersen, Californian spiritual artist who founded Awakening Arts Network, a global resource nexus connecting artists throughout the world who are engaged in creating art that is ‘evolutionary’ and ‘transformative’.
5. Trungpa, C., 1996, Dharma Art, Shambala Publications, Boston, Mass. In Wild Heart Journal

Monday, 25 July 2011

Beautiful Hever Castle

Childhood home of Anne Boleyn in Kent, South East England (seen with her new husband Henry VIII in bottom photo!!)

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Jubilee Land laws, Lehman Brothers, and the Eurozone crisis.

The Lehman Brothers collapse two years ago sent shock waves around the world. The European currency and economy is heading for a crisis that will have deep implications way beyond Europe. Isn't it time we reexamined the very basis of the way our economy is operated?

When the Israelites entered Canaan in the fourteenth century BC the land was carved up between them per capita, and the Jubilee Land Laws were formulated. No freehold sales were allowed and every fiftieth year, the Jubilee Year, the land had to revert to the original family freeholder, at which time the people were to return to their own clans. At this same time bonded servants or debt slaves were released. This sound albeit informal welfare system ensured that the disabled, elderly and infirm were cared for, and the extended family was kept together, maintaining personal dignity and self-reliance for all.
Then there were the laws that gave freedom from debt servitude. There was an interest ban on loans between Israelites (not applicable to refugees and immigrants) and the loan would be cancelled every seven years. This kept the wealth within a family unit and worked to keep the family together.
Lending was about helping the poor and needy through financial crises. Loans were for helping in the short term, they were not intended to cause any hardship to a borrower over the longer term.
These laws for periodic debt cancellation and the return of family property protected a family’s roots and avoided wealth concentration and economic dependency. The laws underlined justice on the one hand with redistribution rules and the importance of relationships on the other, with families being rooted in their own areas. ‘There is hope for your future, says the Lord, and your children shall come back to their own country.’
This is quite the opposite of the global mobility encouraged today in the workforce. Such mobility brings with it the inherent disadvantages of losing family cohesion, not knowing others around you in society and not feeling part of any community. When people generally do not feel loyalty and attachment to a particular area there can be an increase in crimes against the person and an increase in violence against the environment.      
Many of us believe that there is an inextricable link between religious faith and social values, between theology and sociology, between the spiritual and the political. But we must have the courage to uphold these values in our lives. If we do not do so we fail society, and we fail God.
I make no apology for repeating this message, examined in rather more detail in my blog back in May.
Because we cannot keep going on propping up businesses and banks for ever. We need to examine the underlying malaise. The answers may well be found by looking again at Ancient Wisdom.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Non Violence Classic

We have recently seen some wonderful examples of the power of non violence - for example the successful liberation of Egypt from the Mubarak regime. I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, all of whom have preached justice by non violent means.
I subscribe to the Christian magazine Sojourners, Faith in Action for Social Justice, and in the July edition just received have had my attention drawn by a letter from a Tom Ewell of Clinton Washington, to The Power of Non Violence,  written by Richard Gregg in 1934, after the author had spent four years with Gandhi running up to the campaign for Indian independence.
I have found an inexpensive second hand copy, the revised 1959 edition that includes a foreword by Martin Luther King, and look forward to reading it - and will write a review in due course. I am sure, as Tom says, that this has enormous relevance today as all those years ago.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Climate Change Denial 2

These are my further thoughts on the post yesterday on Climate Change Denial, prompted by the comment left by "anonymous." He is right in one respect. To some people science has become their new religion, which then becomes unquestionably right and has no room for other viewpoints. But this refers to scientific reductionism, a perpetuation of the view that eventually everything in nature will be described and explained scientifically and there can be no other explanations “outside the box.”
The Dalai Lama has warned us about this; that we should not ‘overlook the limitations of science. In replacing religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation, science begins to look a bit like another religion itself. With this comes a similar danger on 
the part of some of its adherents to blind faith in its principles, and, correspondingly, to intolerance of alternate views.’ I agree that this spawns those who are as fervent and aggressive in their scientific beliefs as the religious fundamentalists.
But there can be no comparison between the ignorant illiterate masses who were within the influence of the priests of old, and the literate well educated, indeed often overly opinionated people of today who are mostly quite capable, scientist background or otherwise, of reading and understanding the essence of the reports of the IPCC on climate change. These reports are based on the research of very many well-qualified scientists worldwide, whose work is subject to the rigorous peer reviews that are a part of all new scientific research. 
We should respect and try to understand, but this is not a question of reverence. And yes science has its limitations, not only within the IPCC reports. Science cannot explain everything, and increasingly many scientists understand this. Science can and does ignore another dimension, another way of knowing, that is somewhere between (or above?) the two extreme mental poles of objectivity and subjectivity, language based or sensory based, analytic or holistic, rational or intuitive, science or religion, left hand or right hand brain if you like. 
Perhaps this is where wisdom comes into its own and is most needed.
Iain McGilchrist in his wonderful book The Master and His Emissary shows how it seems that the former objective end of the mental polarity is suppressing the subjective element, with huge implications for our future on this planet. We need a balance between the way our different brain hemispheres relate and act, a harmony between science and spirituality that has been lost, particularly by those with the new scientific reductionist faith.
We need joint tools and joint actions to heal the breach, for science to dialogue with spirituality to redress the balance.
Professor Clarke suggested that perhaps the very real threat of Climate Change becomes an opportunity to heal that problem within society; the problem that is the disjunction between these different ways of knowing, which poses a greater risk to society than Climate Change itself. 

And we should heed the work and words of  The Elders, who have wisdom beyond anything most of us can conjure.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Climate Change Denial

I was at a conference for members of the Scientific and Medical network last weekend and very good it was too. But one session really had me worried. Professor Chris Clarke, author of Weaving the Cosmos, was talking to us about the need to connect science and spirituality in our living planet, the different ways of knowing the world, and the need for bringing back a harmony between our rational and emotional selves. In the one and a half hours of talk and dialogue he covered much of enormous interest and significance for the future of humanity, that I may come back to in more detail another time. But what was the cause of my concern?
Well apparently something like 50% of Americans are in total denial about climate change. And what is more, the percentage seems to be increasing as the science produces even better and more indisputable evidence. It seems that there are psychological dynamics at work here. We rely so much on technology and when we are told it has to change, we find this uncomfortable, unendurable, intolerable even, and think there has to be a way out, that science has it wrong, and we go into denial.
We in Britain are nearly as skeptical. A Times poll in 2009 found that only two in five Britons believed that this current and visible problem was largely man made. We really should take more notice of the evidence, including for example the report to world leaders by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) following its meeting in Paris at the start of 2007. This report concludes that it is very likely (and that means a 90% chance!) that the activities of man are responsible for the increased greenhouse gases and the resultant problems of climate change now being seen and predicted for the foreseeable future. As a consequence average temperatures are likely to rise by 4°C by the end of the century. This is the consensus of opinion from the combined efforts of more than 800 contributing authors and more than 450 lead authors, with more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers involved in the two-stage scientific and technical review process.
For the continuing cynics why not use an adaptation of Pascal’s Wager? Pascal reasoned that whether or not one believed in the existence of God, it was a safer bet and one had nothing to lose by supposing that He existed. So it is with the global warming debate. If we allow ourselves to become more spiritually aware, more sensitive to our finely balanced place in the world, more compassionate towards the plight of our brethren across the globe, more simple in our needs, more at peace with ourselves, more in tune with our own souls and the soil beneath our feet, then surely we are all enriched? We will certainly be happier, and we will be leaving a better world for those who come after us. What do we have to lose, climate change or not?
Of course there are bound to be some controversies and debates surrounding the details of the IPCC report and the scale of its significance. But much of our best scientific research effort continues to be directed towards gaining a fuller understanding of all the issues involved, and what actions we can take.
Please let's not ignore the evidence any longer.
And let's find a dialogue between the scientists and spirituality, between the rational and the emotional, combine the analytical with wisdom.
E F Schumacher said something along the lines of: "Man is now far too clever to survive without wisdom."
(The photo is of white hydrangeas at Loseley Park, Surrey, England) 

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

I'm Moving - and sculptures at Loseley Park

 "What gives me the greatest spiritual confidence is the knowledge that I'm moving. I know that I'm continuing to develop. Philosophically, spiritually, personally, I am not in the same place I was a decade ago, a year ago, or even six months ago. And as long as that's the case, I will have the confidence to stand up and talk about evolution."

This is not me speaking, although it could be. It is the opening sentences of Andrew Cohen's latest quote for the week, and I find it so true.
I feel that I have come a long way philosophically, spiritually, and personally over the last few months and years, encouraged and aided by the opportunities that have arisen out of my writing, and inspired and supported by the conferences I attend of the Scientific and Medical Network, an organisation that explores and expands the frontiers of science, medicine and spirituality. Do visit it's website.

and here are more photos of those amazing Zimsculpt sculptures at Loseley Park - sadly the exhibition has now moved on but the beautiful gardens are still there and surely looking at their best now.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

spiritual wells and religious pluralism

“The spiritual probing of religious pluralism and the drinking from each others’ spiritual wells may be today's great spiritual event, full of significance for human well-being, and for the future of humanity on earth.”

Ursula King The Search for Spirituality p. 75

Monday, 4 July 2011

Zimsculpt and Loseley Park

We visited Loseley Park gardens in Surrey, England, at the weekend - they were looking absolutely glorious. But a real unexpected bonus was the exhibition of Zimbabwean sculptures. I love sculptures anyway. But these really shone as being some of the very best I have seen. I loved the style; all unique, made mostly from stones of the serpentine family, hand mined in small scale open cast Zimbabwe mines. Most of the sculptors are inspired by the shape of the rocks available to them to influence the form of their work. Do visit the website of Zimsculpt to see what they are about, and if you get a chance to see an exhibition (this is now moving to Canada from July 22nd to 25th September) and if you like sculptures even half as much as I do, I would strongly suggest you go. Here are some flavours of the work, as shown to such advantage in the glorious gardens of Loseley park.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The wedding at Cana in Galilee

Continuing my theme of the Flower Festival at our local church this last weekend:
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." 4And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come." 5His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." 6Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." So they filled them up to the brim. 8And He said to them, "Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter." So they took it to him.
9When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

The Miracle of Changing the Water into Wine
The Gospel According to John Chapter 2 verses 1-10

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



with vapor trails


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