Ramblings and Buzzings
You know how they say our news media in August is often filled with silly news stories? Well this short address is full of really serious stuff and in order to lighten it up a bit I am dressed as a bee. And I have called it Ramblings and Buzzings because it’s about bees that buzz and ideas that buzz around your head and rambling thoughts that sometimes join together and create a thought that is fresh and new. But in truth all my rambling thoughts have yet to join up and create that spark. Yet I wonder if my thoughts might link in some way with your thoughts in order to achieve that spark.
Our flower communion today which we will invite you to join in at the end of these ramblings was first created by Norbert Capek, a Czech Unitarian minister of the early 20th century who should be famous for creating beautiful liturgies like the flower communion and writing hymns like the one we sang earlier – mother spirit father spirit. But sadly he is perhaps mostly famous for being brave enough to remain in Czechoslovakia as a leader of his community, when the Nazis came to power and for eventually being killed by them. And his crime? It was to listen to the BBC on his radio.
And that leads to one of my rambling thoughts – that a society needs at least some elements of its media to be free – free of commercial pressures, free of government interference. Let us beware when a free media comes under threat. We need a free media because both governments and big businesses have a tendency to believe their own truths and those truths will not always be for the greater good of all.
You have perhaps heard that honey bees around the world are facing an uncertain future. They have been hit with a host of diseases, losses of habitat, exposure to pesticides like neonicotinoids, which some scientific studies have shown adversely affect bees’ brains. Bees need their brains in order to communicate with one another and in order to read their environment, with which they are so closely aligned. Our modern mono-crop style farming also causes bees a feast and then a famine. Did you see England in late May / early June – covered with bright yellow fields filled with flowering oil seed rape: crop dependent on bees for pollination? Yet when the crop is harvested, what will all the bees feed on next? I woke earlier enough to hear Prince Charles on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme this morning. The programme had been recorded in a Transylvanian meadow and you could hear the background hum and chirp of birds and bees. Charles has a passion for hay meadows and told the interviewer that since the 1930s the English countryside has lost 97% of its meadows, with their richly diverse flora and fauna.
Bees have long been regarded as a spiritual metaphor – there is a mystery to their way of life, living and working as a group, like the animals in the story we heard earlier on. An old custom was to be sure to tell the bees what was going on around them. They would be carefully told before any attempt to move their hive was made. They would be informed of all births and deaths in the village. Now perhaps the bees are telling us something and are acting as an environmental warning system for us all.
We often include a quote on the front of our orders of service here and usually it’s one I agree with. Today’s comes from John Galsworthy, author of the Forsyte Saga, who chronicles the fortunes of an upper middle class family here in Edwardian England, a time of great social change and time when the old religious order was losing its power. He writes, ‘Religion was nearly dead because there was no longer real belief in future life; but something was struggling to take its place – service – social service – the ants’ creed, the bees’ creed.’
I can’t agree with him that religion is facing its demise. Religion seems rather to have found a new lease of life in the 21st century world. But yes I am with him in saying we need the creed of the bees and the ants – that the greater good of the whole community has to be a key aim for our lives whilst also celebrating the deliciousness of individual consciousness that I regard as a human right.
But 21st century religion like religion of all the centuries past, has a dark, element of extremism, of ghastly thinking that some ideas are right and so everyone else is wrong. All the more need then for liberal communities like ours who say as we did yesterday when I conducted our first same wedding here at Essex Church – you are free to be who you are, you are free to love who you love, you are free to marry the person of your choice, irrespective of colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ethnicity.
Such messages of equality are radical still today. There are groups who would prefer us not to be spreading such messages. Let me quote my colleague Andrew Brown, minister with Cambridge Unitarians, who expresses so well the radical message of our flower communion:
“Taking a flower from this vase is not to engage in some pointless piece of nice liberal fluffy-bunny stuff and nonsense but to witness to your real intention to stand up to and face down the fascists, racists, religious and political bigots and extremists that are increasingly finding a place in our European societies. To take a flower is to signal your intention, like Čapek, to become watchmen and women standing on the crossroad warning people *not* to go back to barbarism and brutality and, at the same time, offering them a new way to be religious in our own age.”
So as we in a moment conduct our own flower communion, let us think about Norbert Capek and the unique individual that he was. Let’s honour his memory, his commitment to liberal religious expression, his willingness to stand up against tyranny and oppression for that which he knew to be right and true.
Let’s also fill this ceremony with a meaning that is relevant for us today. The message that we are all unique but equal is one oft heard today. Yet truly putting that ideal into practice continues to be a challenge for us all. And let’s remain aware that there are still forces of oppression, still voices of tyranny, still confusions caused by prejudice and lack of education in our world, indeed here within British society today. Let’s be the people who help to heal such divisions through our vision and commitment.
Our world needs us now – to live fully, love open heartedly, give generously and speak courageously – for together we know that our hearts and hands and voices can truly make a difference. And may this be so for the greater good of all, amen, go well and blessed be.
Rev. Sarah Tinker
Sermon – August 2015