Monday, 30 May 2011

The Individual and Society

"The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."
Psalm 19:7-8

I shall let you all into a little secret; I love Beatrix Potter books! Yes you read correctly, I am fully grown man who gladly confesses to becoming lost in the innocent and evocative words and pictures of Beatrix's Edwardian era children's books. One of my favourites is "The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse". For those of you not fortunate enough to have read it I shall quickly outline the story. The tale concerns two mice, one known as Johnny Town-mouse born in the cupboard of a house in town, and the other mouse answering to the name Timmie Willie, born in the garden of a house in the country. One day Timmie sneaks into a hamper full of vegetables destined for town and falls asleep. He awakens to the sound of a busy town and before long arrives at his destination where he is discovered by a housemaid as she empties the hamper of its contents. Running for his life he darts into a hole in the skirting board only to land slap bang in the middle of a smart dinner party being hosted by Johnny Town-mouse. At this point the culture-shock begins. The town mice work diligently to make Timmie feel at home, and to initiate him into the mores of town life, but unfortunately Timmie just cannot get accustomed to the noise, fear of the cat, or the food consumed by his urban cousins. With some disappointment that their country friend has failed to enjoy town life and perceiving that Timmie is becoming ill, Johnny informs his friend that he can return to the country by way of the empty hamper which returns to the farm each Saturday. Finally back at home he happily glides into the comforts of his own world and yet often thinks of his town-mouse friend, periodically visiting the hamper to see if he has fulfilled his half-promised intention to visit. And needless to say, one fine day Johnny does indeed decide to pay his rustic friend a visit. Despite Timmie's best attempts at showing Johnny the best that country life has to offer, the town-mouse just cannot adjust to the quiet pace or many of the other peculiarities of rural living. In the end Beatrix Potter concludes "One place suits one person, another place suits another person. For my part I prefer to live in the country, like Timmy Willie" a sentiment, I must confess, I too share.

At the heart of this cute, and beautifully illustrated little story, is a sentiment summed up by the modern phrase "different strokes for different folks." It speaks of our individual natures and personal preferences. Each of us has our own personalities, with unique quirks and proclivities. We each approach life very personally and see the world ever so slightly differently from our neighbours. This human individualism is deeply important for our sense of self, and for providing us with the wherewithal to contribute something special, however small, to the greater human project. Its expression is often deeply implicated in human happiness. Many philosophies and movements have sought to repress this individuality, to their detriment. Others have encouraged it. To this day Unitarians strongly value the contribution and freedom of the individual, and some have had and continue to have deep theological foundations for this perspective. I personally am always inspired by the Rabbinic dictum that traces the importance of human individuality back to the scriptural account of the creation of humankind being centred on the creation of one individual.

But that really is only half a picture.

"And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone." Genesis 2:18

I think it eminently reasonable that to regard the human person solely as an individual is to harbour a myopic reductionist view that does a great disservice. Man is a social being. We exist within and are shaped by the society in which we live. The countless daily acts of informal and formal interaction with those around us shape how we think, how we act and how we perceive ourselves and are perceived by others. By necessity our own individuality and freedom must have certain restraints if we are to play a constructive and healthy part in society, and for this reason we have rules, laws and principles to which we are all expected to conform. In addition we generally exist within a particular set of cultural assumptions drawn from the environment and history of the place in which we live, and this provides us with a common language, both linguistic and cultural, that allows us to know each other better than we know others outside our sphere.

Many wise and informed people have pointed out that in Britain a hyper-individualism has developed which has led to an erosion of our common values and identity, which in turn has atomised our society and left the most vulnerable without the protection that should be theirs. Some find the origins of this problem in the hedonism of the 60's and others localise the origins in the materialism and selfishness of the 80's. Most likely it is a mixture of the two, and maybe the origins go as far back as the Enlightenment. Either way there is a certain view out there that views morality as simply an issue of personal preference. Not so much what is right or wrong, but more what is right or wrong for me. But surely something is right regardless of whether or not it is convenient or pleasant to the individual. Likewise something that is wrong, is wrong irrespective of how much a person may find it pleasant or suitable for themselves. Why is such hostility displayed towards the authority of moral rules from time to time? Why is the accusation of "judgementalism" so easily deployed to silence moral debate? Is not morality in principle similar to ecology? Moral Ecology if you will. Just as we understand that in order to safeguard the cleanliness and vitality of our environment we must control our behaviour, even if it inconveniences, surely the same applies to our protection and maintenance of the common good.

"While Unitarians maintain the moral responsibility of every individual, they acknowledge that society as a whole must bear the shame of many iniquities. They hold that individual life should be shaped out of consideration for the larger life of humanity, and that it is the duty of every man to ask himself whether he would consider the course of his action and the mode of his life, if seen in another person, beneficial to the community".
Alfred Hall's The beliefs of a Unitarian.

This is not to suggest that issues of morality are simple. Not at all, they are often highly complex with many subtleties requiring a great deal of thought to comprehend. Neither is morality simply something to be imposed by an authority against the conscience of the individual, after all ultimately it is the individual who makes the decision to accept his or her obligations or not. But bearing all this in mind, the reality of an objective right or wrong and the reality of a system of duties and responsibilities towards God and our fellow man, is in my opinion, central to human flourishing and civilisation.

It is this objective moral reality, existing beyond ourselves and appealing to our conscience, and which for me is rooted in my belief in God, and learned from His revelation in the words of the Bible and Jesus, guided by reason, that leads us to go beyond ourselves and become part of a greater human existence. Paradoxically when we thus limit our own desire and will, in order to play a full part in society, we maximise our uniqueness and individuality. The same can be seen as true in personal relationships. When a monogamous couple forsakes all others, sexually and romantically, in order to create that exclusive bond, they limit themselves as individuals, however at that very point they maximise their individual importance, for without either one of them, there is no couple. A little piece of wire in a pacemaker may have no intrinsic value, but without it serving its small role, in a specific and limited place, the device would not work, and life would be threatened.

This past week we heard of the terrible treatment of elderly patients in a few hospitals. Sadly not for the first time are we aware of such news. Perhaps many of us have heard impatient and even scornful comments about the elderly in general, and I have personally seen and heard the elderly being spoken of derogatorily in public. In general I don't think that this country of ours deals well with both ends of life, the young or the old. But why is this? I feel that the slow individualisation of morality, which has led to a degree of selfishness, that does not wish to extend itself too much in the service of others, is significantly implicated. Children and generally the elderly are those who need the most care, and are as such the first and most hard hit victims of the changes in our cultural life. The sacred value of care, even in unpleasant circumstances, is being dethroned. Words such as "undignified" or "demeaning" are sometimes heard in reference to caring and being cared for. An ethical NIMBYism is on display when sentiments such as "it's not my responsibility" and "I'm not cut out for it" are articulated. And as a result the vulnerable are becoming increasingly so, and the scope of human greatness is becoming truncated.

This situation, combined with an ever growing distance from any organic, place-specific culture in Britain, particularly in England, also leads to the elderly, who in other countries are regarded as the source of wisdom and traditional knowledge, being overlooked by a society that feels that they have nothing to learn from them.

Many thinkers today are searching for ways to unite our society, to heal its divisions while promoting common values and identity, and yet converting the aspiration into reality is proving more difficult than some expected. I strongly believe that Unitarian Christians, and the wider Unitarian community, despite being hampered by our small numerical size, have something unique to contribute to the effort. We have had much practice in creating loving, welcoming and uniting fellowships while allowing for a wide range of belief and understanding. We both value the individual and the communal. We assist individuals to think for themselves and live full lives, while simultaneously advancing the cause of self-discipline and altruism. Unitarian Christians in particular, deeply rooted in this country's Christian heritage, culture and belief, while being broad enough to reach out to those whose own backgrounds stem from outside Christendom, have a strong advantage in helping to develop common values and shared identity.

It is therefore of great importance that congregations involve themselves in the life of their local communities, becoming part of the warp and weft of its society, as we once were. Religion like life itself is nothing unless lived for others.

"Not everyone that saith unto me lord, lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Matthew 7:21

It is the will of God that we should rule our spirits, bear with each other's infirmities, and live in charity towards all men; that we should endeavour to be of service to others not absorbed in our own interests and pleasures; that we should seek in all things to overcome evil with good and do our part to redeem the world from sin pain and sorrow".
Unitarian Orders of Service.

"We believe that the really good man is in the way of salvation, whatever may be his outward form of religion. Mere surface morality, not rooted in principle, we do not call goodness. But whoever seeks to do the will of God, and to be faithful and just to man, whether he be heathen or Christian, we believe will be accepted by God, the Father of all mankind".
James Freeman Clarke's Manual of Unitarian Belief.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Day Without Rapture That Affirmed Life.

"Bless the Lord O my soul....who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever. O Lord how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches." Psalm 104

My father regaled me with a reminiscence from his childhood in Galicia - Spain. In a small fishing village near to where he lived there was a preacher who, much like Cassandra in Troy, was predicting the soon to occur end of the world. (Fortunately unlike Cassandra this prophet of doom was not blessed with correct foresight!) Very few people were convinced by this prediction and continued their daily lives unchanged. However one day, while my father and his family were spending a day at the beach an event occurred which would be seared onto his memory. A helicopter flew over the village! What is so shocking about that you may ask? Well in the Galicia of those days such flying machines were not often seen, in fact never seen. With the sight and sound of this modern contraption tearing up the sky a panic swept through the people. Scattering in every direction, screaming-out in terror at the imminent demise of the world, running into the nearest church to beg God for deliverance, the streets and beach were cleared of people most of whom were now convinced that the end-times had arrived. Now accepting that Galicians are historically a superstitious people surrounded as they are by the Atlantic rains and mists that often shroud the ancient landscapes of this Celtic corner of Spain, I was amazed to hear about the reaction of these people, people I remind you, who had not believed the warnings of their local doom laden seer. If nothing else, this story shows that what we hear and what we see influences us, even if we think otherwise, and who knows if in a moment of stress such irrational beliefs could rise up in the most reasoned of minds.

This leads me to wonder what might have happened in the minds of many, if yesterday at 6pm some innocent yet rare natural phenomena had struck, might the reaction have been larger than if it had occurred on any day other that May 21st?

Rapture day, however has passed, and the elect do not seem to have launched into celestial orbit leaving the rest of us to face disaster and destruction. Although it does seem that Harold Camping's reputation (the existence of which astounds me) as an accurate forecaster of such events, seems to have been struck down by a spectacular non-event. Well perhaps I too risk misreading the present and inaccurately predicting the future, as it seems that some of his followers are already striving to reinterpret events in order to save themselves the pain of having to reassess their beliefs. As a wise person once said "you can't reason someone out of beliefs they were never reasoned into in the first place".

The saddest thing in this whole saga is not the bitter disappointment of those who had prepared themselves, financially, socially and psychologically for imminent rapture, bad as that might be, but the fact that these people ever believed the abject nonsense expounded by Harold Camping in the first place. I doubt that Camping's numerological speculation, devoid of substance as it was, could have been the prime reason for such belief in his prophecy. It seems that what convinced people was their desire to be convinced, (A phenomena that is a risk to us all). But why would people wish to be convinced of such a negative and dark viewpoint; that of the salvation of a Divinely approved minority and the destruction of billions of innocent human beings? Well perhaps a Mr Bauer's comments on the BBC are representative:

"I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this Earth,"

These 17 words should strip from us the desire to mock these believers and instead cause us to pity them for what seems to be a hopeless sadness in their hearts. A sadness that faith should assuage not pander to.

A few of those who most rejoice in mocking the end of the worlders are themselves guilty of breathtaking irrationality in pursuit of their own faith. I have grown a little tired of some professed atheists claiming that this episode is representative of the stupidity of religion. Did the fact that the overwhelming majority of religious believers throughout the world took no stock in the claims of this California preacher pass these critics by? Does the fact that no mainstream Christian church endorses Harold Camping's view sway the opinions of these anti-theists? Seemingly not. Indeed it is a special irony that other than Harold Camping's minuscule number of followers the only other group of people making such a fuss on May 21 were atheists falling over themselves to use this episode to pour scorn over all those who believe in religion of any kind.

Nor have some secular ideologies been free from such eschatological speculation. Do people remember when Prince Charles in 2009 warned that mankind's survival was in peril with a mere seven years remaining before the "levers of control" over Anthropogenic Climate Change would be lost? Dr James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies was even more alarmist than his Royal Highness when he said, also in 2009, that President Obama had "only four years to save the world from imminent peril". This Mr Hansen, like Harold Camping, had previously gotten his predictions a little bit wrong, predicting as he did that 2007 would be the hottest year on record. (It wasn't). Then again perhaps Mr Camping and his Family Radio group were motivated by the same idea as motivated Stephen Schneider, a professor of environmental biology and global change at Stanford University to say; "We need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public's imagination. That of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of doubts we might have." It would seem that for some "The End of the World is almost here, the Bible guarantees it" slogan, might be rewritten as "The End of the World is almost here, Science guarantees it". The lack of humility of ideologues of all colours eventually harms them and their causes.

Very much in the spirit of the second century Rabbi Shimon Ben Zoma who said;

"Who is wise? He who learns from all men"

the minister in my chapel reminded us this morning, that there is something significant to be learned from Mr Camping and his fellow believers. (He also had us all giggling at the thought that perhaps those members of the congregation not present this morning could have perhaps been raptured yesterday but that's another story :-)

He reminded us that we are all survivors! That's right, we have all survived "the end of days" (could that be a new T-shirt slogan?) and awoke this morning to a new day. This is not a facile comment, for after all yesterday at 6pm some of our fellow Britons and many people around the world would most certainly have breathed their last breath. When we went to bed last night none of us had any guarantee that we would awake this morning. None of us has any certainty that we will be alive the next moment. How grateful we should be therefore, for all the blessings in our lives, for the gift of life itself, bestowed upon us every second of the day and how much should this awareness provoke us to infuse each moment of life with meaning, sanctity and virtue.

And on the other hand how tragic are those beliefs that demean the life of this world in pursuit of the world to come. How tragic are those who see only the negative in this world of blessings and who see contentment and happiness as existing only in the life beyond the grave. How wasteful are those who allow the life in this world to go un-enjoyed in the pursuit of a future life, the nature of which we can never know with any certainty. Such beliefs seem to turn their back on the face of the God of life, whose creativity has given us a world of unparalleled beauty and sanctity, and who privileges us, above all creatures, with the minds and hearts to appreciate it to its full. And how sad that some Christians, seemingly so desperate for the destruction of this world, and the majority of its people who do not share the same views as themselves, have in turn embraced a world view that unintentionally turns its back on the life giving teachings of our master Jesus:

"Or what man is there of you who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish will give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is heaven give good things to them that ask him?" Matthew 7:911

"That ye may be sons of your Father which is in heaven for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust." Matthew 5:45

Our society often takes a jaded view of life, and yet in our midst we have millions of exemplars of a different way of seeing our world. Those exemplars are children! While retaining our maturity our reason, our sense of duty and propriety, how much more beautiful our lives would be if we could only learn to see and feel the sheer joy and excitement of life through childlike eyes. Only then can we open our hearts and mouths in praise of the Author of all that exists and the glories of His Kingdom.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings:
We praise thee, O God

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all home-blessings; for our friends and all the pleasures of companionship; for the love, sympathy and goodwill of men:
We praise thee, O God

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live; for the life of truth and righteousness to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women:
We praise thee, O God.
Orders of Worship for use in Unitarian and Free Christian Congregations 1932.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Poor, Yet Making Many Rich

"Unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Isaiah 56:5

"Philanthropy and real Charity in a humble life - died on Tuesday last, aged 72 ... a man whose good deeds performed within a humble sphere of life are worthy of admiration and lasting remembrance." These were the eulogising words written in 1839 in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle for that giant of kindness John Pounds.

Born in Portsmouth on the 17th June 1766, it seemed that John Pounds was destined for a life in shipbuilding, however there was another Will in store for him which guided him in the task of building lives and letting them set sail on the sea of self-respect and success.

At the age of 14, within weeks of his father's death, John fell into a dry dock while working and was left badly crippled for the rest of his life. In those years such an outcome was nothing less than a catastrophe, with work for young men of his class geared almost exclusively to manual labour. Something of John Pound's faithful attitude to life can be seen from how he used a long period of convalescence and recovery as an opportunity for self-education through the reading of many books on various subjects. By the time he was able to resume walking he had amassed a wealth of knowledge, one of his favourite subjects being that of natural history.

To support himself he learned enough of the trade of shoe-mending which, considering the number of people involved in the busy labour of both Portsmouth and Langstone harbours, provided him with plenty of work. While earning more than he could ever had done at the docks, his income was not particularly generous, however he earned himself enough to purchase a dwelling (calling it a house would be to overstate reality) in which to live and work. Consisting of two rooms, nothing bigger than an overgrown garden shed, the downstairs was used as his workshop/living room.

Another tragedy, the birth of his nephew Johnny with inwardly turned feet, would further guide John down the path of greatness. Realising that the boy's mother could not cope with the needs of her disabled child as well as those of all her other children, and aware that doctors were planning to break the boys ankles in an attempt to rectify the disability, John pounds asked to be allowed to care for the boy. Applying his knowledge he developed a basic pair of orthopaedic boots, which eventually cured the child's affliction.

John Pounds was the proverbial communitarian, caring deeply for the community he belonged to, always seeking ways to help the many destitute families that filled the streets. People knowing this about him, would seek him out to solicit help for themselves and their families and would always receive it to the best of his abilities. Many orphans and destitute young people would be drawn to his workshop, where ever cognisant of the words of our exemplar Jesus:

"Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 19:14

John would entertain them with a story and other fruits of his educated mind. Also providing them with warm food from his own scanty provisions, to assuage their hunger.

Slowly but surely he began to gather more and more children around him to educate them, on occasion 40 or so children could be found, sitting on old boxes and benches in his tiny workshop as he filled their young minds with knowledge, while at the same time carrying out his work as a cobbler. He was known to search out the neediest children, offering them hot potatoes and inviting them back to his workshop schoolhouse. He would teach them from as many old school books as he could lay his hands on and provided slates for them to practice their writing and arithmetic as he could not afford copy-books. He taught them a wide range of academic subjects, but also taught them how prepare food for themselves and how to mend their own shoes. He took them on field trips to the hills outside Portsmouth to collect flowers and all the while teaching them how to identify animals, insects and trees . Unsatisfied with just teaching the children, he would care for them when they were ill and fashioned toys for them for play and sport.

John was also insistent that the children receive a good religious education and to this end visited a local Anglican church to petition the vicar for some Bibles to be used in his school. The vicar told him he would be happy to help, and as soon as the children saved up the tuppences and threepences he would be happy to sell them the Bibles. John Pounds questioned the Vicar where exactly these destitute children were to get the money, and then decided to seek help elsewhere. He went to the Unitarian chapel (today John Pounds Memorial Church, Unitarian) and again asked for Bibles. The minister, Revered Russell Scott, handed him several Bibles and told him that the chapel would provide him with as many as he needed. Indeed the chapel and its congregation provided much more than just Bibles, and they actively helped John in his mission to educate and care for the poor youth of Portsmouth.

Each Sunday John, a rather dishevelled and unkempt man, would smarten up and take his "children" to the Sunday-school attached to the chapel. He himself relished attending his chapel and would sit in his pew quietly and faithfully worshipping his Maker.

He received valuable aid from Portsmouth Unitarians, however he never accepted any for himself, instead directing everything for the use and benefit of his charges. He remained to his death in the same humble station. A woman once said to him:
"Mr Pounds I wish you were rich, you would do so much good!" to which he responded: "Well, I don't know, if I had been rich, I might perhaps have been much the same as other rich people. This I know, that there is now not a happier man in England than John Pounds, and it is better as it is."

His life ended suddenly on New Year's Day 1839 and was buried in the grounds of the chapel he loved. His funeral was attended by large numbers of people of all religious and political opinions. Many people contributed to the fund to create a memorial stone for him, which can be found to this day in the grounds of the church.

Dr Guthrie, a famous Edinburgh Calvinist preacher and philanthropist said about John Pounds:

"When the day comes when honour will be done to whom honour is due, I can fancy the crowd of those whose fame poets have sung, and to whose memory monuments have been raised, dividing like a wave, and (passing the great, and the noble, and the mighty of the land) this poor, obscure old man stepping forward and receiving the especial notice of him who said, "inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these, ye did it also to me".

John Pounds' story should serve as an example and a warning to us. Each day of life presents us with opportunities to become the best we can be, we must not let excuses or fear or indolence prevent us from reaching our potential, always remembering the words of the hymn:

Come, labour on:
Away with gloomy doubt and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here;
By hands the feeblest can our God fulfil
His righteous will.
Jane L Borthwick 1859

John Pounds demonstrated that everyone has some skill, some gift, which can with willpower and faith, be a source of assistance to all those around us. Each of us can be great, or at least come part of greatness. The vicar that John Pounds approached for Bibles, squandered his chance at playing a part in this most glorious of achievements, let us not make the same mistakes.

The cobbler from Portsmouth set in motion a movement that would shortly thereafter be called the Ragged School movement which in turn led to education becoming available to every single child in the country, and yet even today there are many children, victims of circumstance, family breakdown etc, that are struggling. Unitarian congregations up and down the country must strive to be present in the lives of these children, assisting them and their families and keeping alive the legacy of a man who in the most reduced circumstances educated hundreds of children and kept them far from lives of crime, sadness and hopelessness, that is the sort of church we were and should be again.

"I dream of a church that joins in with God's loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost;
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor and then shoulder the cost.

God make us a church that joins in with your living
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release;
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring:
lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace.

Kate Compston

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Speaking Truth to Power

"And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren , and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel". Deuteronomy 17:18-20

This extended weekend has been one of much happiness. The Royal wedding on Friday was a lovely celebration of love and marriage and a beautifully organised and executed spectacle that allowed people to celebrate the love between Prince William and Catherine Middleton, together with our common history and allowed us to relish a little bit of our national splendour.

One of the moments that made the greatest impact on me, was during the address given by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. Certain aspects of course did not mesh with my own Unitarian theological position, however the guidance he gave the royal couple on how to conduct their married life in the spirit of God was beautiful and moving. Perhaps something not so much appreciated is the quite radical sight of monarchy being reminded that they themselves are answerable to something greater, more regal, more illustrious than themselves. That they as much as the lowliest person, are subject to the same law of the Divine. How strongly this image was contrasted by the events taking place that selfsame day in Syria; a government that believes itself to be the absolute pinnacle, that answers to no-one and crushes with unjustified force those who point out to them, "our right to freedom, and your obligation to respect that, is greater than your desire to rule". Of course many have fallen by the sword of rulers unwilling to hear that they too are subject to the Eternal's constitution.

"For John said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. And Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him."
Mark 6:18-19

God reveals in His scriptures that a ruler is to serve his subjects, and to constantly be aware that morality, ethics and law are not his to make or his to do away with, but they are to be before him always, informing everything he does.

"The kings of the Gentiles have lordship over them; and they that have authority over them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so, but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve."
Luke 22:25-26

We ourselves may not be kings, but we are challenged in the same way.

God's reality is immense and the magnitude of His glory is incomprehensible, He truly is above all, and we are all subject to His will, including the mightiest kings. No wonder this testament of faith has been seen as so subversive and threatening down the ages to those in power. But God is also to be found within us and never more as when we share our love, kindness and concern with others. Which is why in our journeys through life and faith, the support of a sympathetic and loving community is so invaluable.

Which is why the growth of our Unitarian movement is so necessary. For those who are not as lucky as those of us who have congregations to belong to, are missing the fuel that can help propel them to ever greater closeness to our Heavenly Father who is most often found between those arms stretched out in fellowship.