Proud To Be Part Of The Human Race: The Rescue Of The Danish Jews

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By Dr Max Lawson

Although reticent by nature, a few words are in order about my attachment to Denmark and all things Danish. I taught for six years at the International People’s College in Elsinore (of Hamlet’s Castle fame) which is on the sea coast
about an hour’s drive north of Copenhagen. On weekends I took students on excursions. One particularly poignant one was to Gilleleje, the most northern point on the island of Zealand and the closest crossing to Sweden, twenty minutes by boat. Gilleleje, like Elsinore itself further south, was one of the escape centres to Sweden.

I took the students to the local ,village church in Gilleleye, which had a large loft or attic in which Jews were hidden, pending their escape to Sweden. Indeed they could see Sweden from a large porthole window. One group were betrayed either by a Danish informer or simply the Germans picked up loose gossip around the town. Another group that did not make it were the elderly Jewish residents of a
nursing home – they were overlooked.
In all 481 Danish Jews were deported to the Eesienstadt (north of Prague). From this “model” concentration camp many were deported to Auchwitz but the Danes were allowed to stay, a promise the Danish authorities had obtained from
Werner Best, head of the German occupation of Denmark.

The retelling of this extraordinary event in October, 1943 can be found here.

In What Do We Place Our Trust

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by Geoffrey R Usher

Robert A Storer served two long ministries in Massachusetts in the second half of last century. He visited Sydney in 1982 and preached in the Sydney Unitarian Church, and then in 1985 I stayed with him at the start of my speaking tour of Unitarian Universalist churches across America. I want to start by reading a piece entitled “Trust” which is in Robert’s little anthology Prayer Thoughts:
May we learn to trust in the things we see about us each day.
In simple acts of goodness, in kind and gentle words, in ways we gladly help one
May we learn to trust in people,
In those with whom we disagree,
In those who want from life something quite different from what we desire.
In those who cannot possibly see things our way.
May we learn to trust in the underlying rightness of people’s motives.
Remove from us any suspicion or fear that another person deliberately wishes to injure us.
Let us learn to trust in the important things,
The things that are precious in our lives,
The daily friendly contacts,
The ability to laugh away tension, to drive away our fears.
Let us rejoice in friends who believe in us even when we act rashly and blindly, who stand by us even when they cannot defend all that we do or say.
Enable us through the strengthening power of this communion so to live on this
earth that we will strive to increase moments of beauty, to enlarge the happiness of others, to strengthen the bonds of human fellowship, to extend the areas of peaceful living on this earth, to trust that all can be well with us and others when we give life and motion to our trust.

You can read this sermon in full here.


Henry David Thoreau Quote

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IN THE STREET AND IN SOCIETY I AM ALMOST INVARIABLY CHEAP AND DISSIPATED, my life is unspeakably mean. No amount of gold or respectability would in the least redeem it — dining with the Governor or a member of Congress!! But alone in distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even on a black and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that the cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home… It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.

Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian and leading transcendentalist. He has long been an inspiration to Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. The piece above comes from his diary January, 1857

Read more:

Unitarian Universalism

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Unitarian Universalism arose out of the joining together of Unitarian and Universalist Churches in the US. Here is how they describe themselves.

In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart.

Together, we create a force more powerful than one person or one belief system. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have to check our personal background and beliefs at the door: we join together on a journey that honors everywhere we’ve been before.

Our beliefs are diverse and inclusive. We have no shared creed. Our shared covenant (our seven Principles) supports “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Though Unitarianism and Universalism were both liberal Christian traditions, this responsible search has led us to embrace diverse teachings from Eastern and Western religions and philosophies.

Unitarian Universalists believe more than one thing. We think for ourselves, and reflect together, about important questions:

The existence of a Higher Power
Life and Death
Sacred Texts
Inspiration and Guidance
Prayer and Spiritual Practices
We are united in our broad and inclusive outlook, and in our values, as expressed in our seven Principles. We are united in shared experience: our open and stirring worship services, religious education, and rites of passage; our work for social justice; our quest to include the marginalized; our expressions of love.

A more detailed explanation can be found here.


Quote for our Post-truth Times

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The further  a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.

George Orwell.

The God of the Gaps

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Sermon delivered to Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship on Sunday 18 March 2018 by the Rev Geoffrey Usher.

At the meeting of the London Group of the Society on 15 September 1994, the speaker was the Rev Dr David Wilkinson, a Methodist minister and Chaplain to Liverpool University. Rev Dr Wilkinson held a PhD in astro-physics, and was a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1993 his book was published: God, the Big Bang and Stephen Hawkins. The title of his talk to the Alister Hardy Society was “Spirituality and Modern Cosmology”.
He began by emphasising that he had come prepared to learn, since no-one knows all the answers to cosmic questions. Important, that:- no-one knows all the answers to cosmic questions.
However, he said, modern cosmology – the study of the world around us – modern cosmology had forced many people to consider religious questions in relation to science itself. They had been forced to consider those religious questions, even if they had no particular religious axe to grind, no particular dogma to defend.It seemed that, the more we discover, the more religious questions we face – particularly questions about the emergence of spirituality in modern cosmologies.

The full sermon on the influence of modern cosmology on the concept of God can be read here.

Idealism in a Crazy World – The case of Cervantes’ The Adventures of Don Quixote

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by Dr Max Lawson

The Adventures of Don Quixote was written in two parts: the first part published in December 1604 or January 1605 and the second part was not published till 1615 – not long before Cervantes’ death.
Not only is The Adventures of Don Quixote considered the first novel but is often considered the greatest comic novel. At the simple plot level it is a series of adventures and episodes involving the delusions of the madman Don Quixote and his so-called squire “The rustic” Sancho Panza. The second part of the
novel is more serious with Don Quixote becoming more lucid and Sancho Panza becoming as mad as his master.
Don Quixote became mad by reading himself into insanity immersing himself in his veritable library of books about chivalry and knight errantry. Part of the ironic drollery of the novel is that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are “absurdly unsuited for their roles(1) – in fact in the romances, books on chivalry, knights-errants were always rich young men of high birth and their squires of similar  background were serving their apprenticeship before coming knights-errant themselves.  Unlike the models in the romances, Don Quixote, with his broken down Rosinale, his horse, and his patch-work thread-bare armour and
the pot-bellied Sancho Panza riding on his ass are parodies of the chivalric tradition. The fun of the novel is all, the absurd situations the decrepit pair get into – the famous, indeed archtypal episode being that of tilting at windmills, thinking them enemies.

Dr Lawson discusses the relevance of this story to the modern world. The complete talk can be found here.

Good News in the Present Tense

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by the Rev Geoffrey Usher.

I feel a bit uncomfortable when people who have  been Christians for years insist on telling their
conversion experiences. It’s not the stories that make me uncomfortable, but the thought that they
ought to have something much more recent to communicate about their Christian life. A poet
Your holy hearsay is not evidence:
Give me the good news in the present tense.
The living truth is what I long to see. I cannot lean upon what used to be.
Show me how
The Christ you talk about Is living now.

Click here to read the full address.

Paper Bags and Calabashes

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An address given by Reverend Geoffrey Usher to the Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship.

Do you have a cardboard box of “good stuff”? Do you have a box which is what you’ll grab to take with you if your house ever catches on fire? Do you have a worn paper bag of bits and pieces – “love in a paper sack”?
Think back over the years. Are you aware of any sins of omission – of failures to seize opportunities which you might now be ready to grasp – failures to see what was really there – what was really being offered to you in the equivalent of Robert Fulghum’s daughter’s tattered lunchbag?
Are you aware – or prepared to admit – that you may have rejected, through sheer insensitivity, goodness only knows how many tentative offerings of open-hearted trust?

Click here to read the full address.


Reflection – April 15, 2018

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by the Rev. Daniel Jantos, given at the Spirit of Life Fellowship, Kirrabilli.

Some of us may identify philosophically, politically, spiritually as progressives but generally, in Australia or the United States, we know that there is a line, of sorts, to our left that one crosses with caution. The clearest way to cross that line is to start talking about Karl Marx and Marxism …..or to throw around the words colonialist and imperialist. We may be progressive but many are wary of that leftist Marxist fringe whom we suspect are mostly idealogues gone too far – university students or academics who don’t really know enough about the practical world.
Well today I would like to bring up some Marxist critique and some colonialist conspiracies as a part of a reflection. This in connection to a term that has captured my imagination over the past few weeks and I hope might be of interest to you also. It is a term from the writer Peter Hershcock. It is the term “the colonization of consciousness.” I am using it this morning as a way to reflect on just how much information technology has invaded our lives and is plundering our attention. To use a Marxist phrase: it has made a commodity of our attention.

The full address can be found here.

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