It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who remarked that “ No-one ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and they are not the same person.” 

We may not notice the fact, or we may choose to ignore it, but all of life is like that.  What may seem to be static is shifting and changing – our surroundings and ourselves.  It’s all movement and process.  That can be hard, because, as human beings we want some predictability and a sense of safety.  We want a balance between novelty and familiarity.  To know where we are.

Downsizing brings this dilemma home.  What can I keep that is not only useful, but familiar and comfortable?  It raises questions about what I really need and what I can let go. Essentially it questions and challenges me about my values, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mark 12:34)

So might this recognition of impermanence be an opportunity?  An opportunity to acknowledge that I am part of this inevitable process, to recognise at a deeper level what is important and to let go, because, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching.

Chris Dawson

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Compassion is Practical

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

(Luke 6:36)

Once upon a time, in a dense forest, lived a mighty lion.  King of the jungle.  One day, after a large meal, he was taking a nap under the shade of a large tree.  While he was sleeping, a tiny mouse was scurrying about looking for food.  Accidentally, the mouse ran across the lion’s nose, waking him up.  In one swift movement, the lion trapped the little mouse under his huge paw.

“How dare you disturb my sleep!” roared the lion. “ I shall make a meal out of you to teach you a lesson!”

Trembling with fear, the mouse pleaded for his life. “Please, mighty lion, spare my life.  If you let me go, I promise I will return your kindness someday.”

The lion laughed at the idea of a tiny mouse ever helping him, but he was in a good mood and decided to let the mouse go.  “Run along, little one.  You are free,”  he said.

Time passed and one day, while prowling near the edge of the forest, the lion was caught in a hunter’s net.  He struggled fiercely, but the harder he tried the tighter the net became.

Hearing the lion’s desperate roars, the mouse recognised the voice as that of the lion who had spared his life.  He quickly ran to the source of the sound and saw the lion was trapped.  Without wasting any time, the mouse began to gnaw at the ropes of the net with his sharp teeth.  Slowly but surely the mouse made a hole big enough for the lion to escape. The lion, free at last, was amazed at the little mouse’s help. “Thank you, dear friend.  You have saved my life, just as you promised,”  said the lion, humbled by the mouse’s compassion.  (Aesop’s Fables)

As the Spanish proverb says:  “Today you.  Tomorrow me.”

Chris Dawson

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Moving On

“You’ve got four jackets.”

“Yes, but they’re all different – different colours match different occasions.  Two are everyday, one is lightweight and one is dark and formal.”

“And the blazer?”

“Yes, that makes five, I know.”

That’s the kind of conversation I have been having with myself recently.  We’re downsizing.  Easy to say, and the practicalities are often quite straightforward.    It’s the letting go of the memories and emotional attachments.

I’ve been through this before, but not so intensively.  This letting go, moving on.  Those attachments are powerful, but do they represent my relationships with myself and other people and who I am today?  If they do, perhaps I am stuck.  Like the clutter I am trying to clear. 

I have made start.  I’ve taken twenty three boxes of books to Oxfam.  They tell me they have raised several hundred pounds.

Ah, but the jackets….

”He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” (Luke 4:11)

Chris Dawson

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Open to People and Possibilities

Human beings tend to like certainty.  We like things to be predictable.  But predictable may exclude possibilities.

In writing a booklet on mental skills for young footballers (I started out life as a PE teacher) I wrote: “Football is a game of possibilities.  Few things are fixed.  Few things are inevitable.  Unless you think they are!  A game isn’t lost or won until the final whistle.  Unless you think it is.”

OK so life isn’t a football match, but all aspects of life hold possibilities.  And those possibilities do depend on our attitude, our beliefs and our relationships.  It is about being open and open hearted.  In religious terms, it is being open to the presence of God in situations and, above all, in people where we might not expect it.

It may mean crossing the street literally and figuratively. 

I have set myself the pleasure of greeting the people I pass on my five minute walk to church.  On Sunday I crossed the road to greet a lone person walking on the other side.  No-one else was about.  I said, “Good morning,” and he stopped and smiled.  “ Good morning, “ he replied.  He continued, “I looked up and thought, this man is crossing the road to speak to me.  How nice.  God bless you, sir.”  “You too,” I said.

I am because you are.

Chris Dawson

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

A friend of mine forwarded me a picture of his 5 year old grandson.  He was dressed as a cowboy and pointing a revolver at a security guard outside a Star Wars Convention.  The security guard had his hands up in a gesture of surrender and an expression of mock terror on his face.   Cute?  Or disturbing?

My father told of how, “as little boys we always assumed that the Germans would make war – and we should be little drummer boys – the result of a very mild form of indoctrination.”  Signing up as a seventeen year old he met the reality of the trenches, of being shot and wounded – twice.

Last week we commemorated the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, the start of the liberation of Europe.  Interesting words, “commemorate”- remembering something together – and “liberation”.  And what was Europe liberated from?  Among other things from a regime that said that some people are of value and others are not.

On last week’s Antiques Roadshow a woman brought a picture of her grandfather in military uniform, seated at a table in a First World War dugout.  He had been a stretcher bearer.  On his chest was the ribbon of the Military Medal awarded to him for bravery.   “Was he proud of receiving that?” asked the military expert.  “Yes, but he was more proud of a friendship he made that lasted a lifetime,” said his grandaughter.  He, with other stretcher bearers was picking up the wounded and came across a young wounded German.  The others wanted to “finish him off”, but her grandfather insisted he had a right to be saved and to live.  They connected, corresponded and visited each other until they were both into their nineties.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Chris Dawson

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Dimensions and Depths

It’s understandable that we human beings like to define things and we do so largely in words.  To speak, to record things, to communicate is a major part of being human.  It helps us to understand our world and each other and gives us a degree of control.  It also has its limitations.

We have all our house deeds and documents from the time before the house was constructed in 1889.  I was reading them recently and noticed not only the legal language but the lack of punctuation.  This, I’m told, is to avoid misinterpretation – and you have to be a lawyer to be able to interpret it.

In the church we expect our clergy to be our interpreters, to help us to interpret scripture and Christian teaching.  Fair enough. But is it any wonder that they joke about drawing the short straw if they have to give the sermon on Trinity Sunday.  How do you attempt to explain the dimensions and depths of God’s being – a mystery beyond words?

Nevertheless, some of us love getting our heads round things.  So even in the afterlife it seems we won’t be disappointed.  The story goes that when we get to heaven we will be faced by a choice of two doors, each with a sign on.  One says “Heaven”.  The other says “Lecture on Heaven”.

Chris Dawson

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Out Beyond Words

A member of the Amazonian tribe the Kuhama Kushameria, was paddling some white visitors down the river.  He gently brought the boat to a stop.  “The fish are singing”, he said.  “Can you hear them?”  No they couldn’t. They gave each other a look as if to say, “Is this guy alright?”

David Gulpilil was a well-known Australian actor and dancer.  Of Aboriginal descent, he was brought up learning all the skills and traditions of his people.  He starred in the film, The Rabbit Fence.  It tells the true story of three children taken from their family to a children’s home hundreds of miles away.  They decide to escape and walk the hundreds of miles back home, following the Rabbit Fence.

David plays the part of the tracker following the children to recapture them.  At one point in the shooting of the film the director tells him that he now loses the children.  David’s response is that that would not happen.  He would never lose them.  He would be able to track them wherever they went in Australia.  Like the tracker in the real life story, he says he has lost them and allows the children to escape.

Science has discovered that fish do “sing”, sending messages to each other at a frequency human beings can’t immediately hear.  Most of us are unlikely to develop our listening so that we can hear them, or the closeness to the earth needed to develop the skills of a tracker.  Nevertheless, through looking and listening more closely, we could become more sympathetic stewards of God’s creation.

Chris Dawson

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Expecting the Unexpected

How open am I to possibilities or, as Elaine put it in her sermon last Sunday, to expecting the unexpected?  And, having experienced it, to travelling in a different direction?

Courtney Gore became a member of her local school board in Granbury, Texas.  She was elected because she supported “conservative Christian values.”  Those who put her forward for election, like her, were convinced that the curriculum in their local school was indoctrinating the children with inappropriate messages, particularly about sexuality and race.

Immediately after her election, Courtney spent a day and a night going through hundreds of pages of lesson plans looking for what she expected to find.  She was shocked. Shocked by what she didn’t find.  The indoctrination simply didn’t exist.  She found the materials taught children “how to be a good friend, a good human.”

Courtney shared her good news with those who had put her forward for election, expecting them to be as surprised and relieved as she was.  They weren’t.  Her former allies shunned her and stuck to their story.

The Pentecost story is a pretty amazing one – rushing wind, tongues of fire and people speaking in multiple languages and yet understanding one another.  Imagine the outcome if everyone had accepted the initial explanation – that they were drunk, “filled with the new wine.” But for Peter stepping in, it might all have been different.

Chris Dawson

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All is Process

When you have won a gold medal what do you do next?  Go for the next one.  Set a goal.  Make a resolution.  Keep going, even in retirement.  Like a retired teacher friend of mine, who, having just finished a cruise, immediately plans and books the next.  Society encourages us to strive, to keep going, to achieve.  To keep moving.

Yes, movement is intrinsic to life.  The Spring growth around us reminds us of that.  But what kind of movement?  The frenetic striving for success, the chasing after things, which can be so exhausting and ultimately unsatisfying?  Or something different?

Keith Kozloff, a photo journalist and essayist, was hiking in the Canadian Rockies.   The mountains were majestic.  Yet, what he found himself attracted to were the clouds, their ever changing shape and movement.  He began to see life like that.  Shifting and impermanent.

Poet Richard Skinner goes a step further:

“Do not think of a static God:

there is no static God;

only action and reaction,

activity and response,

movement and relationship,

the ceaseless flow

between you and me,

the interplay in which

all cohere….

…Do not think of God beyond

or God within

but God between;

for in the going between

is the movement of relationship,

and in that movement

there is God.”

(from Colliding With God – Wild Goose publications)

Chris Dawson

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We Are One

What unites us and what divides us?  Questions that have come to me from several directions over the past week.  Last Thursday’s elections started things off, followed by a visit to the North East, a couple of Radio programmes and a monthly Herefordshire community newsletter.

One of the radio discussions was about what makes the English distinctly English.  Not an easy one to answer.  We could say a shared language.  Though with variations and distinct accents.  A shared culture, perhaps, or the British Values that schools are required to teach.

While human beings and their needs stay the same, circumstances evolve.  In 1087, when the Commissioners gathering information for the Domesday Book visited the English county of Herefordshire, they had to use interpreters because the local people spoke Welsh.  

The Church of England too has its variations, shifts and changes.  For example, the Abbeydore Deanery is deeply rural, lying west of Hereford and running up to the Welsh border.  It has 33 parishes, each with a church in use, 6 clergy and a population of 12,000 people.  In contrast, the Stockport Deanery has 9 churches and is distinctly urban and post industrial.  But, in essence, both Deaneries are the same.

Both are a part of something bigger.  Something that unites.  Not just a Diocese and an Archdiocese and a worldwide church, but a community of love that believes, as Paul put it to the Galations: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Chris Dawson

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