The Authentic Self


Theme Talk (18th August 2014 at Hucklow Summer School)

An abridged version of this talk was given as sermon #10 at Essex Church on 24th August 2014


The Authentic Self: Who Are You?

When someone asks ‘who are you?’ – What do you say?  Where do you start?

I suppose it depends a bit who’s asking, and when they ask, and what mood you’re in at the time. So let’s say I’m asking, right now, this morning (because I just did, & now I’m going to do it again): who are you?  Read more

Over and Over


Sermon #11 (5th October 2014 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians) 

In our culture, in the modern world, repetition has got a pretty mixed reputation. Consumerism pushes the message that ‘variety is the spice of life’. There is a certain pressure on us all to be on the lookout for what’s new, to valorise novelty, change and innovation, even to be on the move in our personal lives and never stay put in the same place for too long.

In the next fourteen minutes or so I’m going to try and redress the balance a little bit. I’m going to echo the question we heard from Jeffrey Lockwood (he of the Deluxe Avocado sandwiches) a bit earlier, and ask: ‘What’s wrong with regularity?’ Or to put it more positively, I’m going to offer a few thoughts on the valuable role that repetition has to play in our lives: in the arts and the creative life, in our worship and spiritual practice, and as we all go about our everyday business.

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The Art of Forgetting


Sermon #9 (26th January 2014 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

We hear a lot about remembering in church. In the next twelve minutes or so I’m going to try and redress the balance a bit – and perhaps that’s the key word to bear in mind, BALANCE – by looking at a handful of different ways in which forgetting might be beneficial or even necessary for a well-rounded and  flourishing human life.

Up to a point, forgetting can be good for you intellectually – in terms of learning and creativity; emotionally – in terms of freedom from worry; and spiritually – in terms of personal and social transformation. So I’m going to consider each of those three realms of forgetting in turn. Read more

Changing Ourselves, Changing the World


Sermon #8 (6th October 2013 at  Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians) 

In the next 12 minutes or so we’re going to hatch a plan to change the world. I hope that doesn’t sound too ambitious! In the broadest terms, we’re going to consider what it is about the world that might need changing (where shall we start! you might ask), what might prevent us from taking action for the issues and causes we care about, and how we can hope to overcome these obstacles to help make a better world for all.

But first of all I want to highlight a fact which can easily be overlooked: Changing the world generally means changing people. That is: changing the way people think, the way people regard one another, the way people act, every day of their lives. Changing people’s minds, hearts, and habits.

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In Praise of Birds: ‘Hello, Who are You?’


Short Reflection (15th September 2013 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

When I was about 20 years old, in a Secret-Santa present exchange one Christmas, I let it be known amongst my old schoolfriends that I would like to get a book about birds.  I’ve no idea what brought about this urge at that particular moment in my life.  I do recall having fond memories of studying a wall-chart that mum had bought me as a child so that I could identify the birds that came to visit our caravan on holiday in Kent each year.  In fact I’ve managed to dig out the wall-chart which set me on the path to being a birdwatcher.

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Becoming More Like God


Sermon #7 (7th April 2012 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians) 

The title of this service was nicked from a great mid-90s mystical pop record by the post-punk legend Jah Wobble – maybe a few of you will remember it – when I originally chose the theme I wondered if that title might be inadvertently offensive or at least considered a bit too irreverent or even cocky from a mainstream point of view… It turns out I probably needn’t have worried – in fact once I did my research I was surprised to find that the idea is actually included in the Catholic catechism – which quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa as saying ‘the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God’.

As we heard earlier, there is this strand of thought which says that the task of humanity is to develop into the ‘Likeness of God’ by gradually perfecting our moral character through the struggles of life. A number of great philosophers and religious leaders have identified the path of virtue as a means by which we humans might come to flourish in this way. Read more

A Push and a Pull


Sermon #6 (7th October 2012 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

In recent months – perhaps recent years – I’ve noticed myself using a certain phrase in conversation. I’ll be talking about some opportunity or event that’s coming up and I’ll say “I have a push-pull feeling about it” – whatever ‘it’ is. [I even noticed that I have a little push-pull gesture that usually goes along with it].  Another way of putting it might be “I want to and I don’t want to”.

And what sort of thing might bring this feeling on?  Well, I’m quite shy really, so for me it would often be situations that involve human contact, meeting new people, making small talk, having to perform in some way, anything where I might be in the spotlight and end up embarrassing myself. Like leading a service, for example… Read more

In Need of a Blessing


Sermon #5 (15th April 2012 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians) 

Some time ago I was chatting with Linda Hart, minister with Richmond Unitarians. When I mentioned the theme of this service she reminded me of something from one of my favourite books, ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson, a novel which is told from the point of view of an elderly Congregationalist minister looking back over his life. In this passage he recalls that as an (unusually pious) child he had baptised a litter of stray cats:

“Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing. . . . . It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.”

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Sermon #4 (1st May 2011 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians) 

The last month or so has been unusually busy here at Essex Church, with the publication of our new book, as well as our annual report, and a trip to the Unitarian Annual Meetings in the middle of it all… and in the midst of all this business – in a change to the previously advertised theme (it was originally entitled ‘Up the Workers!’, to coincide with May Day, and was all about work) – all I really wanted to think about was rest.

As I mentioned earlier on in the service, I am very fond of the book ‘Sabbath’, by Wayne Muller, and I will draw on it a great deal during the course of this sermon. But first, let’s go right back to the bible, Exodus 20:v8-11: Read more

All Souls


Sermon #3 (31st October 2010 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

Over the next ten minutes or so we’re going to put all the pumpkins aside for a bit and take our cue from the Pagan & Christian festivals that are coming up over the next few days.

For pagans, today is Samhain – in the old Celtic traditions this was apparently considered to be the time of year when the veils between this world and the Otherworld were at their thinnest, and when the spirits of the dead could mingle more freely with the living. In the Christian church calendar, tomorrow – November the first – is All Saints Day. This is a day when Christians are called to celebrate the lives of all the saints and martyrs who aren’t high-profile enough to have a dedicated day all to themselves. The day after – All Souls Day – is when the mainstream church remember the ‘faithful departed’ and pray for the souls of those in purgatory. Read more