Bearing Witness – 31/01/21

Opening Music: Intermezzo by Reinhold Gliere played by Abby Lorimier & Rachel Spence

Opening words: This space is sanctuary by Kathleen McTigue (adapted)

You who are broken-hearted,
who woke today with the winds of despair
whistling through your mind, come in.
You who are brave but wounded,
limping through life and hurting with every step, come in.
You who are fearful, who live with shadows
hovering over your shoulders, come in.
This space is sanctuary, and it is for you.
You who are filled with happiness,
whose abundance overflows, come in.
You who walk through your world
with lightness and grace,
who awoke this morning with strength and hope,
you who have everything to give, come in.
This space is your calling, a riverbank to channel
the sweet waters of your life,
the place where you are called by the world’s need.
Here we offer in love. Here we receive in gratitude.
Here we make a circle from the great gifts of breath, attention and purpose.
Here we recognise the great span of human experience
The patchwork of diversity we create by our being
Come in.

Opening words adapted from the words of Kathleen McTigue.

So hello everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering here on Zoom. Welcome to congregation members, friends and visitors from far and near. It’s good to see you all. Welcome also to those of you watching this service on video sometime in the future, listening in to a podcast or reading our script. There are many ways to join in. And if you are with us in person this morning, in the virtual realm of Zoom, do feel free to engage at a level that’s right for you. Of course we’re glad to see your lovely faces but sometimes we know it’s a day to sit back with your camera off.

So I invite us all to take a moment now, to take a conscious breath and to know that we have arrived at this moment, as I light our chalice flame, a single flame that connects us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over.

In today’s service we are recognising Holocaust Memorial Day which takes place each year on 27th January. I’m grateful to our trustee Harold Lorenzelli who has put so much thought into our address today. It seems ever more important to us both that in these days of polarised politics and fake news – that we remember our human potential for inhumanity, and that the roots of any holocaust begin way back in a society when the identities of certain groups are denigrated, looked down upon, objectified and generalised, when hatred becomes normal. Those roots start to grow when ordinary people like us look away and ignore identity-based hostility. Let us instead be people who stand in solidarity and bear witness to wrong-doing and injustice.

Each week when we meet in our building in Kensington or here in our online congregation, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. So here in our Zoom service we’ve a good few minutes for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary – visitors you are most welcome to join in. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, as it’s good to hear some other voices, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Jenny our host and I will do our best to spot if you want to speak and can’t unmute yourself.

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our hearts today – for our joys and our griefs weave us together in the fabric of community. Our lives are connected. Let’s take a moment now to think of the joys and concerns we have heard spoken this morning… these glimpses into one another’s lives and the life of our wider world… and let’s hold them – and each other – in loving compassion as we move into a time of prayer now.

Let’s each do what we do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind – maybe shift your position, intentionally adopt a prayerful posture – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever helps you to be fully present with yourself, with each other, and with that larger presence which holds us all.

As we join in this time of reflection and prayer we remember this week’s Holocaust Memorial Day and also mark that today is the start of LGBT+ History Month, when we are encouraged to find out more about LGBT+ history and achievements as well as combatting prejudice and misinformation. And so let us pray:

Spirit of Life, we know you by many names or by no name at all. We affirm that all people are endowed with inherent dignity and worth and that we are called to treat each other in ways that honour and value that worth. We seek to embody those values in our lives and in our community. We also acknowledge that we are called to resist all forms of injustice. We are called to remember the depths of our potential inhumanity to one another and to commit ourselves again and again to the re-building of our shared humanity, to cultivate our ability to greet all others as neighbours, even when, particularly when, they are different from us.

When we hear of other people’s problems, let us own our collective involvement in all the world’s issues. Let us take shared responsibility for the problems of our world, knowing that we cannot live for ourselves alone.
With this principle to guide us, let each of us spend a few moments in silence now directing our thoughts and prayers to those we know to be in need this day ……….

And perhaps we can own our individual and collective potential for evil and wrong-doing– forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us……

May each of us find wellsprings of courage to stand against injustice and discriminatory attitudes.…..

And most of all let’s remember our own power to make things better in this world and in ourselves, through simple acts and small adjustments in our thinking and by remembering that each and every person is indeed a neighbour of ours, for we share this one world. We ask your blessing as we seek to co-create a world where people are free from injustice, violence, and discrimination. And to that aspiration let us say if we so wish Amen, so may it be.

Reading: We’re going to read the lyrics of a very moving song now written by Clive James, the Australian raconteur who seemed brash and loud but who had far greater depths than you might imagine. A fine poet in my view. Harold and I will read this as a poem but if it touches you as it does me I recommend looking for the song online sometime. It’s called A Hill of Little Shoes and it’s based on those photographs that were shown of the concentration camps after World War II, those enormous heaps of children’s shoes. Clive James is asking us all to consider how we bear witness to the knowledge of such dreadful acts – committed by some human beings against other human beings. How shall we raise the youngsters alive today when we live in the shadow of those hills of little shoes. How can we bear the knowledge that we lived whilst others died. Perhaps if we can remain aware of such atrocities we will find the strength to ensure they do not happen again. We could have been them – we could have been those children, we could have been those who ordered the building of hills of little shoes.


I live in the shadow of a hill
A hill of little shoes
I love but I shiver with a chill
A chill I never lose
I live, I love, but where are they?
Where are their lives, their loves?
All blown away
And every little shoe’s a foot that never grew another day

If you could find a pair
And put them on the floor
Make a mark in the air
Like the marks beside your door
When you were growing
You’d see how tall they were

And the buckles and the laces
They could do up on their own
Or almost could
With their tongue tips barely showing
Tell you how small they were

And then you think of little faces
Looking fearfully alone
And how they stood
In their bare feet being tall for the last time
Just to be good
And that was all they were

They were like you in the same year
But you grew up
They were scarcely even here
Before they suddenly weren’t there
And while you got dressed for bed
They did the same but they were led
Into another room instead

I live in the shadow of a hill
A hill of little shoes
I love, but I shiver with a chill
A chill I never lose
And I caught this cold
When I was chosen to grow old
In the shadow of a hill of little shoes.


After such a stark image of the hill of little shoes let’s move into a time of quiet meditation. You might want to adjust your position so you are comfy, maybe take a stretch and lift those shoulders up and round and back, letting the tension fall away. We’ll have a good three minutes of silence held together, and there’ll be our chalice flame video to focus on if you wish, or close your eyes, whatever works best for you. The silence will lead into our second piece of music today by Russian 20th century composer Reinhold Gliere played on cello and viola for us by Abby Lorimier and Rachel Spence.

And if it helps you to have an idea to take into the meditation here is a short phrase from the Upanishads – the ancient Sanskrit scripture: ‘To direct the mind towards the basic unity of all things and to divert it from the seizing of differences—therein lies bliss.’ (Repeat)

Lead into chalice video

Silence then music: Berceuse by Reinhold Gliere for cello and viola

Address: by Harold Lorenzelli

The topic of evil and its place in the world is not an easy one to approach. I’m a natural optimist and so to be confronted, as we all are, on a regular basis with facts which belie or challenge that condition is not an easy thing to swallow. If you accept the principle that this is one humanity though riven, as the hymn goes, then it is hard to escape the conclusion that we inevitably share both the good and the bad that constitutes the human lot. As the Latin phrase suggests….there is nothing that is human that is alien from me. Of course the $100 dollar question is: Why should it be that some people are driven to unspeakable acts of atrocity? What is that motivates some of us to commit crimes against humanity that are abhorrent to the common mass? Setting aside genetic predisposition, hard enough to establish despite advances in neurological research, is it possible to establish a psychology of evil? An evil gene, as it were. Speculation abounds and the land is filled with the competing cries of those who claim our hands are bound before birth to those existentialist thinkers who believe we are limited neither by our culture or our genes. We are free to choose our destinies. The jury is out on that one. What interests me perhaps more is the motivation for such acts.

Hannah Arendt, the thinker, coined the memorable phrase: the banality of evil. By that she did not mean to trivialise the evil that people perpetrate. In her observations at the trial of Eichmann for war crimes in 1963 she remarked on the commonplace, often mundane reasons why people allow acts of extreme cruelty to take place. His was no grandiose design but a wish to improve his chances of advancement in the party hierarchy. Chilling as we may find that remark, it betrays the possibility that evil deeds, be they great or small, may often be hidden beneath a veil of seeming normality. The aims of Totalitarian, Fascist regimes are mostly disguised when people become mere cogs in the machinery of government. Evil is perpetrated when people act without examining the consequences and fail to think from the standpoint of somebody else, in other words a lack of empathy. As E M Forster famously pointed out ‘Only connect’…. Arendt relies on the fact that most people will comply but some will not in conditions of terror. Evil could happen anywhere but does not and this is grounds for believing that we will survive. Now you might find that last remark a little stark, and you’ll remember that I consider myself an optimist at heart, so I looked elsewhere to find examples of people’s reaction to the existence of evil in the world.

The great Russian writer Dostoevsky believed in the innate goodness of the human spirit and that despite the badness we encounter we should look to our highest ideals and seek the diamonds among the filth, as he put it. He was, incidentally, suspicious of all social systems and prized individual virtue as the bedrock to spiritual advancement. John Steinbeck was a little more sanguine in his assessment: All the goodness and heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins-it never will-but that it doesn’t die. Albert Camus said pretty much the same thing in his novel The Plague….the plague, a metaphor for man’s ability to harm his fellow creatures, may lie dormant for years only to rise up again for the instruction and misfortune of mankind. A surprising source of reflection came from the pen of Isaac Asimov, the writer of science fiction. We need, he says, to believe people are good even if they tend to be bad because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way and the pleasures of belief outweigh the disappointments. The writer Maya Angelou responded to her own rape as a young woman by turning to literature, to human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough, she says, to triumph herself. She upheld courage as the indelible individual capacity to create ourselves daily as Christians, as Muslims, as Jews, as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings.

To confront evil and to turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution individually and collectively is both exciting and honourable. The threat of despondency and cynicism are never far from the surface and we wrestle with these demons sometimes on a daily basis. It requires a supreme act of the will, the human spirit in its most combative phase. That we are not alone in the desire to build bridges of hope is testimony to the resilience of our species.

If you will allow me, I’d like to end by quoting a letter written in 1973 by an American author E B White who wrote a letter in response to a Mr Nadeau who had, for reasons unexplained, lost faith in humanity. It is found in his letters of note:

Dear Mr Nadeau, As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness. Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society-things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometime rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbour seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out. Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day. Sincerely, E. B. White

Hymn: May I Be Filled with Loving Kindness
Thanks to you Harold for that thought provoking piece. There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now but if you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. It’s been recorded for us by the Unitarian Music Society and the words come from the Buddhist metta practice of loving kindness: may you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well. We’ll all be muted so do join in singing if you’d like to.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be whole.

May you be filled with loving kindness.
May you be well.
May you be filled with loving kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be whole.

May we be filled with loving kindness.
May we be well.
May we be filled with loving kindness.
May we be well.
May we be peaceful and at ease.
May we be whole.

Announcements: Time for some announcements now. As always much gratitude to our Zoom hosts Jane and Jenny – without whom these services just would not happen, thanks to Harold Lorenzelli for making me think and to Abby Lorimier and Rachel Spence for introducing us to a composer I’d not heard of before. There are plenty of other opportunities to keep in touch in the week ahead – with the West London GreenSpirit group meeting at 2.50 for a 3pm start tomorrow afternoon Monday, to celebrate the early spring festival of Imbolc There’s the coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday and if you’d like to join a Heart and Soul session one evening this week get in touch with Jane as there may be a few spaces left. Do drop us an email if you are quite new to our Sunday gatherings. It’s always good to hear from people. And thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these challenging times for all organisations and charities. At the end of the service we like to take a photo so do stick around for that if that’s ok with you and we’ll have a chat over coffee in smaller groups too, to which is everyone is welcome. For our closing words I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together.

Closing words:
And so I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. Let us take the sense of connection back into our wider world that so needs a message of oneness in diversity. In the week that lies ahead may each of us be blessed with the strength we need to stand up for that which we know to be right, in the week ahead may we be blessed with the humility to know that our cherished opinions and points of view might be wrong, in the week ahead may we be blessed by the spirit of right action, guiding our steps for the greater good of all, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Closing Music: Canzonetta by Gliere

Sarah Tinker and Harold Lorenzelli

31st January 2021