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Sunday, 10 June 2012

On the subject of Faith!

Reading   Hebrews 11 verses 1 to 10

Where do we all fit in?

In life we often need to discover faith in something to carry us forward on our journey. We need to have confidence that someone or something is there that others have discovered and tapped into, some thing that is enlightening to our lives.
I wonder if you have seen the rather silly advert with a donkey following a carrot on a stick on television lately? It depicts a rather old shriveled up little carrot much prized by the donkey until a mole makes a comment implying that it is rather dried up and just an old carrot. The donkey then loses faith in its value. He finally sees it as just a dried up shriveled old carrot. Eats the carrot and becomes depressed.
I wonder what this advert tells us about faith? For some of us the faith we follow might be a shriveled up old thing that is no longer providing sustenance? Perhaps we like the donkey have forgotten the point of the carrot in the first place. We equally may have even like the donkey seems to have done gone off solo without an owner and so no longer have a provider of fresh carrots?
We need to examine, when did a carrot become something to follow? In the great scheme of evolution at some point donkeys discovered it seems a love of carrots. Then along came humans who discovered that dangling a lush carrot on a string in front of a donkey all day got the donkey to follow and do things. This it seems dates back to the 1700s. But the donkey in the hay day (ops bad pun) got its carrot replaced because it got to eat it at the end of the day and a new one was on a string the next day to follow.  The donkey had faith in the carrot as a reward for endeavor. 
Faith is like that carrot; we discovered a love of having faith in our evolution of life, humanity found it sustained. Refreshed daily it enabled humanity to work and to achieve great things. But like the donkey in the advert some times humanity starts to just follow and not to consume its carrot. Keeping the drying up little carrot as a trophy rather than as sustenance for daily energy.
Now before we go on I want to ask does it have to be a carrot? How about a parsnip? Or an Onion? Well actually I discovered donkeys as a whole dislike parsnips and onions are unadvisable. The ideal treat is apparently the Carrot closely followed by apples, bananas, pears, turnips and swedes are all safe and usually popular with donkeys!
So it is not surprising that the carrot donkey story Is well known being based upon proven fact not fiction. It is not the main feed of a donkey, but a supplement to its diet that gives revitalization.  The best treat for a donkey is a carrot, and other than perhaps a banana is the easiest to simply tie on a string.

Is our faith like the carrot on a string? If we accept the analogy we need to ask where are we getting our supply of carrots from or are we holding onto a dried up shriveled trophy rather than having a refreshed carrot. Maybe we have no carrots and are being enticed to keep going with a banana or another vegetable or fruit perhaps not a native one to our location. You see the analogy I am trying to picture is one built up of a culture and experience in our native land of England. Now were I addressing a country where bananas were plentiful the analogy might not work. But there is something about the humble carrot story in our culture and climate that allows the story to make sense.
We do not particularly know where carrots originated but we know they are certainly cultivated here, we know they have different strains or varieties. We know they grow in our climate and are a plentiful source of food good for not just donkeys but humans and other creatures all can derive nutrition and indeed life is itself sustained by them.

A recent tweet from Bank St Unitarians states.. We are called "Unitarian" because of our historical insistence on divine unity, the oneness of God. This is our carrot!!
This is our historical incentive, which we have been following and others have come to accept as the strain of food that will encourage and sustain us. Our carrot has been farmed and grown for centuries and may be considered a derivative of other strains of carrot but it has never been a banana. It has never been an apple. It is intrinsically different to a parsnip although it shares many similarities it is a different colour and consistency. The question we need to ask ourselves is not should we change our ancient traditional treat of a daily carrot, but how to get fresh carrots to sustain and encourage us in our journeys of life.

Now I don’t want to insult anyone, but for myself I have no problem with identifying as a donkey. I can be stubborn; I will doggedly keep going when others stop. It is even rumored I carry a cross on my back. I enjoy a good carrot or two as well. Some rather rude people might say I have big ears as well; I shall leave that for you to consider. I am also not exactly built for speed either. OK stop laughing enough of comparisons.. There are some pretty noble things about associating myself with a donkey. Of all the equine species from Shetland pony’s to zebras and so on, perhaps there is much to be said by associating the Historical strain of Unitarians whose insistence is on divine unity and the oneness of God, with Donkeys.

We are not a plentiful breed here; but we still exist. Historically we have diminished in numbers and perhaps others consider us less noble than bigger cousins like horses. We are less easily led than some animals and ways of getting a donkey to work are harder because of our stubborn nature! Had we not had a stubborn nature our congregations would have closed long ago. Our carrot has kept us going and yet in some ways we have been tempted to include bananas and apples and so on as substitutes when our carrot supply ran short. But our carrot is our ideal treat and reinstated we would soon enjoy what works best for us again.

In terms of our Object as Unitarians “To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition. 

The bit I see as the carrot is the last six words of our Object.

“Upholding of the liberal Christian tradition” is to my mind where my carrot analogy fits best. In Unitarian circles recently it has almost become unfashionable to feed on the tradition of a liberal Christianity.  There are those who no longer want us to look to our past evolved theology, our carrot and want us to have a different perspective. They see us having a shriveled up old trophy of no real value such as depicted in the advert. The reason for this is simply that they do not see the carrot as the best incentive. Perhaps they have not been carried on by it on a string slightly out of reach and perhaps we have stopped renewing the carrot? Perhaps they are used to a banana or another faith perspective.

What sustains us is not just what I see as the carrot. “To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all-“ for we do not live by carrot alone. It is as I say the best treat for a donkey. It may well be that we are not all donkeys as I seem to find most that sustains my interest and perseverance in fresh insights of old traditions. Maybe In a now mixed stable I am the donkey who has the carrot in sight, while other companions are only looking at apples or have developed a liking for parsnips or are busy eating hay. 

But upholding of the liberal Christian tradition is where I find my faith encouraged. You know our predecessors in the Unitarian past found the carrot their means of faith as well. Perhaps we have been to ready to remove the need for theology at depth from Unitarian study, for it is here that I find fresh carrots to keep me going. I see in our old meetinghouses and chapels a theology is there in the very structures.  We are the privileged inheritors of generations of those who sought to be liberal in their evaluations of scriptures they cherished. They took a pride in doing theology rather than blatantly using scripture at face value.  It coloured their outlook on life, it nourished their souls and drove them on to the service and betterment of all humanity. I for one am still feeding on that carrot. For that is the basis of the faith that sustains me!

How we view our tradition is rather like the donkey advert I mentioned, there are those who just see a shriveled up old carrot. There are those who have stopped looking for a fresh carrot and wandered away from upholding a liberal Christian tradition in a deeper sense, they have stopped being refreshed by that sense of excitement at being connected to our historical past. A past that is a proven sustenance of faith to keep us going!

What ever we might see God as, and that includes those who are atheist. What ever language we may use, It is in the oneness that we find unity. It is in seeing that which previous generations termed the divine that something; beyond our humanity is identified. It is an assurance found In our generation that others followed this path of life with faith. Their treat and ours is that carrot called faith. A faith that speaks to us today from the past legacy provided and one that can be stored up to be passed on, one that we can also pass on to other generations yet to come.

It is a unique factor of Unitarians that we value many expressions of faith, and that is quite right. While for me my carrot is that upholding of the liberal Christian tradition, I can see how others whose life experience is not to follow a carrot can find paths of ways to spirituality without my carrot. But my carrot is important to me and going back to the advert to lose faith in shall we say carrot farming and grow other crops will not be my ideal. I believe my job is to make others see in my carrot that which I value for it sustains my journey of life. Teaching a liberal Christian tradition is what I do best. Implicit within much of our Unitarian ways of doing things is that upholding of the liberal Christian tradition. I see it like a carrot as the ideal and it spurs me on. The question I want to leave you with is do you see value in my carrot?  
It is my faith, it is wonder it is connection with past generations who for generations were spurred on by it. In my innermost self I feel comforted by upholding a liberal Christian Tradition. In this country those are our roots and should we sever them then we will lose our continuity and the wealth of nutrition that has sustained Unitarians for generations.

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