Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Responding to Evil with Good

Last Sunday, October 4th, at Unitarian Chapel Oldham we read from St Paul's letter to the Romans, Chapter, 12 below is the King James Version but we read from the New Living Translation. Anyway, this reading which puts down the foundation of the Christian faith resonates with Jesus' 'Sermon on the Mount'. It lays down a radical challenge to the followers of Christ. There is so much in this chapter alone to consider. 

For the sake of simplicity on that very question of returning good for evil we turned to watching this YouTube video clip: Buddha Sayings - How to Respond to Evil with Good

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching;
Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Telling the Truth is a Revolutionary Act

I think one of the essential things we should emphasise to children is the importance of telling the truth. The Buddha is supposed to have said that there are three things that cannot be permanently hidden, the Sun, the Moon and the truth. I think that this is one of those undeniable facts of life, the sort of fact that we might ignore at our peril like the old adage that the only inevitability is death and taxes. How important it is to tell the truth and to try to live with integrity. It is so important not only for us as individuals, at the individual level but it is important in every field of human activity, in all organs of government and in every institution of business, religion and charity and political activity. Without the perception of truthfulness and integrity individuals lose respect and organisations become damaged and can ultimately die. We place such an importance on telling the truth and yet how often do we see the failure of truth, the betrayal of trust, financial shenanigans, the cover-ups that go right to the top of the political system even aided and abetted by Prime Minister's as official records years after the events reveal and are made public. We have to ask as we should where the moral compass is and what is driving this dishonesty, we have to ask the pertinent question - why? And in whose interest this level of corruption is working?

We tell children always to tell the truth but somehow, I can't help thinking that this child like quality we try to encourage is not really in the more sophisticated world of the adult the touchstone for all our relationships. As we get older it seems that we are expected to accept that with a nod and wink we can subvert a promise or a contract because that's the real world that we live in. And besides, it’s what everybody is doing or going along with and so we tell ourselves that at some level that it's OK to turn a blind eye to a certain level of dishonesty.

I can't help but think that story of The Emperor's New Clothes should not remain in the primary school but should be elevated to the level of a religious parable and so we can say that the Kingdom of Heaven can be likened to the child who declared the Emperor to be naked. Indeed, in the story, the unexpected emergence of such compelling and innocent honesty became in fact a catalyst for a re-wakening in the consciousness of the people, the government and the Emperor. Such honesty deflated the tyranny of ego and prepared the way for humility and awareness. If the Kingdom of Heaven is to come to earth, this kingdom which is 'righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit' then it must be based on truth.

In the Gospel of Matthew (21) we can recall the story of Jesus who overthrew the money changers in the Temple but in the violence of this scene we overlook the children who were crying their support, "Hosanna to the son of David" they shouted and cheered. And when chief priests and the scribes saw and heard this they rebuked Jesus who in response reminded them of the Scriptures (Psalm 8) "Did you never read, 'Out of the mouths of babes of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.' Here Jesus had committed a revolutionary act by overturning the moneychangers tables; he had struck at the heart of economic injustice, for he said that the house of prayer had become a den of robbers. The writer George Orwell once said that "In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act." This revolutionary act, as we know led to Jesus' crucifixion but as someone once observed, you can kill the revolutionary but you can't kill the revolution.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Be in One Mind

We are constantly invited, in this world to embark on so many projects; so much can be demanded of us at times that it feels that we don't know which way to turn that in the end we begin to suffer from a number of problems, poor concentration, failure, fatigue, and a sense of inadequacy. We might be begin to see that where others have success, we don't and so we begin to feel overwhelmed by all the world has to offer and unable to cope, we might feel that we cannot cope or that in some way we are not good enough or clever enough, or have enough staying power, enough strength to see something through to the end.

One of the key factors in all of this is to be able to focus the mind to know what it is that we really want. There in the synoptic gospels is the story where after crossing the Sea of Galilee Jesus comes to the country of the Ger'asenes and there he is confronted by a man who is completely insane, so much so that by night and day he lived amongst the tombs, cutting and bruising himself with stones. He was said to be possessed by demons. When Jesus asked him what his name was he said his name was Legion, because he was 'possessed by many'. In other words, the man's true self was overcome by many other aspects of his mind all going and pulling in different directions so that he himself was not whole, his true self was divided and confused. This was the cause of the man's anguish. In the story Jesus heals the man, he performs a miracle by driving out the demons and sending them into a herd of pigs who consequently go mad themselves by rushing down a steep bank and drowning in the sea. We might recall that Jesus also said that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, neither can a house divided against itself stand. In other words there must be a unity of purpose, at every level in order to succeed and to have coherence and to be whole.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear the words of Jesus again on the same question when he says that the lamp of the body is the eye and if we keep this eye single, or in other words bear this in mind at all times, then we shall remain full of light, the whole body shall be full of light. When he says the lamp of the body is the eye, he means the mind or the minds eye. In other words if we only allow things of light and goodness to occupy our minds we will find that we will not so much dwell in the darkness of confusion but in the light of single-mindedness, we will not so much be easily overcome by conflicting and unhealthy desires or live in pain and distress as did the man from the Gera'senes but rather we will enjoy more clarity of thought and have a real sense of purpose. We do not forget that in this Lenten period that the trials that Jesus faced in the wilderness were testing trials of choice and this trial confirmed his turn from the world to the spiritual life. Jesus is of course the ultimate exemplar the way, the truth and the life.

On our journey through life, in our struggles we have to even sustain the sustaining power of faith itself. As a building must be constantly maintained so we have to maintain our own spiritual well being, we have to be alert to the unwelcome thoughts and impulses that can surreptitiously take over and lead us into darkness or into the despair that robs us of our joy and our belief in ourselves and God. We need to encourage ourselves and each other. We are always assailed by the difficulties and hardships of life and no more is this recognised in than in the book of Psalms. Here we can hear the voice of Israel, the very human outpourings of grief, of yearning, and anger but emphasis is always on faith and redemption as the faithful believer struggles and is consoled:

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.