Sunday Sermon – 25 November 2018

Listening to The Radio

Not by profession, but by way of recreation, my father was a DIY radio constructor. Perhaps I ought to express that differently, for he died in 1947 before the phrase “Do it Yourself” or “DIY” was coined. In those days DIY was called handiwork and those who did it were handymen. Feminism had not, in his lifetime, extended to non-sexist language, so naturally there were no handy-women. Women just got on with running the house, washing, cooking, sewing, mending, shopping, ironing and all the rest, but were not handy-women, or even handy-persons, just housewives. But I digress.

Also, at that time radios were called wireless sets. They were full of valves the size of, or even larger than, light bulbs, condensers, large high tension batteries, small low tension batteries, and accumulators which had to be recharged weekly, in our case, at the local cobbler’s shop.

From time to time my father bought a copy of “Practical Wireless”, with a free blueprint inside. The blueprint was pasted to a wooden base, and then various components were screwed, as directed, through the paper to the base. The exact position was shown on the paper by circles or squares, with the name of the part within it. Wires followed along the white lines on the blue-paper, and then connected to the parts. The whole was encased afterwards in a cabinet, on the front of which was a large dial with a pointer, like a clock face with only one finger. This could be turned to point to Daventry, Luxembourg or somewhere called “short-wave”. The batteries were plugged in and the loud-speaker connected; the earth and aerial attached, and, low and behold, music and voices came out of the air and filled the house. On the short wavelength, the dots and dashes of morse code from ships at sea could be picked up, as they relayed messages from ship to ship, or ship to shore.

As a boy, I was privileged to have an extension speaker in my bedroom. It was a black horn – a miniature version of that well-known one in which a dog listened to his master’s voice. The lead from the set was switched off at bedtime, but, through some fault in the wiring or the switch, the sound still came faintly through even though it had been turned off in the room below – loud enough to be heard if the horn was pressed to the ear underneath the bed-clothes.

Saturday night Music Hall with Vic Oliver, or Rob Wilton, Will Hay, Two Ton Tessy O’Shea, Albert Modley, Stainless Stephen and a host of other stars, to be surreptitiously enjoyed in the privacy of the world under the bed-clothes.

I wondered then, as I do now, at the miracle in which the air is full of unheard sounds waiting to be captured and amplified with the aid of a bit of wire and a handful of inert looking components screwed down in a wooden case. Though he died before I could discuss it with him, I am sure my father felt the same awe. Why else would he dismantle working sets to assemble new ones, if were not for a joy of achievement, arising from acting as midwife during the birth of a miracle.
How he would have marvelled if he had lived longer; at television sets, first black and white, then in full colour; at video recorders bringing the cinema into the front room (it was always called the front room in those days, the lounge is a modern affectation); at mobile telephones carried round in the street on which you could not only speak, but take photographs as well; at computers and word-processors (his sermons were typed on an old portable type-writer with a ribbon which as it worn, printed fainter and fainter). Had he lived long enough he no doubt would have built his own word-processor from a DIY magazine). He would have looked with astonishment at calculators that every school child could use; at cameras that focus themselves, and compact disk records which can be played without ever-lastingly replacing the steel gramophone needle, or constantly winding the handle at the side. What wonders now surround us and which he never knew! And who knows what wonders are still to come.

And what a multitude of different sounds there are filling the air. There is music of all kinds – rock, pop, classical, jazz, light musical comedies, heavy operas – there’s no end to the variety. And the words – idle empty chatter, educational and informative discussions, news of disasters, appeals for help, drama, poetry, propaganda – they are all there and more – countless millions of words all around us waiting to be picked up by tuned receivers and heard by listeners on land and sea, or even flying through the air above us.

But none of this sound is heard without the right apparatus for capturing it. Invisible, unheard, undetected, it fills the ether waiting until it is captured by the correctly tuned equipment, to be translated into a form our ears can appreciate.

The humble home built wireless set is no more. Music centres or the pocket-sized personal stereos have replaced it. But the miracle remains. The air is full of sound, and with patience, with the right equipment, we can tune into it and listen. Otherwise it goes unheard, for we have to take the initiative in order to hear.

But something else has happened in those years which have intervened since my father built his wireless sets with the aid of the popular magazine of the day. It is not only that the name has changed from wireless to radio; it is not only that the sets have become more sophisticated with different components; it is not merely the proliferation of broadcasting stations, or more technically ambitious programmes; but it is to do with the way we react to the modern radio transistor set.

When my father built his sets and they successfully worked, we then listened to the wireless. Sets were not turned on simply to break the silence, or to provide a background of noise against which we performed the daily tasks. We sat round and listened, or hid under the bed-clothes when we should have been asleep. For one thing it would have wasted precious batteries which cost money to replace. But I think it also had much to do with the feeling of awe. The wonder of it was new. Miracles should not be treated with casualness.

Today, it is as if our very achievements have made us blasé. An advertising slogan for a firm offering services to the public may go something like, “We can perform miracles by the next day, the impossible may take a little longer”. Miracles are everyday two a penny events. The mood is triumphal. We cease to wonder and marvel.

There has grown up an arrogance, an indifference in the human soul. That there are those things around us which we can neither see nor hear is taken for granted, and the wonder has gone from it all. The words and music we capture are no longer valued.

But more damaging is a culture of not listening. Go on any building site, enter any garage workshop, sit down on the beach or walk in the park, and the chances are that the radio is on and the sound comes forth. Often it is loud, too strident. But most distressing of all, the set is on, not so people can listen, but merely to break the silence.

The most damaging aspect of this phenomenon is not the volume, though that can be distressing enough on occasion, but the implication that listening is not really very important. And because we cease to listen, we cease to hear. Perhaps we turn the volume up because we have forgotten how to listen.

None of this would be of such deep concern if it were not symbolic of an attitude to living. Just as we treat listening to our radios with casualness, so listening in general becomes perfunctory. We hear without appreciating; we see but do not perceive. A cry for help is unnoticed, a child’s plea is lost in the busy confusion of life.

If we tune ourselves correctly, and it is not really all that difficult to do so, there is much to hear. There is music, poetry, drama and beauty in the world which surrounds us; there is much to learn and to wonder at; there are cries for help to which we can respond; there are choruses of joy in which we can join, there are sympathetic replies to questions asked.

But if we lose the capacity to listen, we shall hear none of this. It becomes the so-called wallpaper background. It is the equivalent to the musical background of the restaurant, the shopping centre or the fair-ground. If we lose the capacity to listen, we lose the capacity to respond.

People used to talk of the still small voice within, which is heard if we listen. It is not that the voice has stopped to speak, but so frequently, we have lost, apparently, the will to heed.

We live in a world of beauty, of miracle, and we are in danger of not seeing it. We live in a world where voices cry out to us, and we do not hear. Our parents knew of the all-pervading presence of God which they could detect by attuning themselves, but we are in danger of saying there is no God, because we neither see nor hear. Are our aerials are connected? Have we tuned in?, one asks.

As I have remarked from this pulpit so often before, the changes to the world in the last century, nay in less time than that, have been greater than in the preceding thousand years or more. But human nature, human needs, human aspirations remain largely the same. As ever, much human unhappiness stems from self-imposed deafness and sightlessness.

Let us go back to listening to our wireless sets; both the material ones and the spiritual ones. When we truly listen, there is so much to hear that is beautiful. Glorious sounds fill the air if we tune in to them, and tune out the dross.

Then there are cries for help to which we may attend. There is knowledge to be gained; there is peace to be had.

A.E. Houseman’s poem begins

In Summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear

and concludes

I hear you, I will come.

Shall we listen awhile, and maybe come too?

C.J. Rosling May 2005

Fulwood 28 June 1998
Hucklow 15 May 2005

Sunday Sermon – 18 November 2018

…Three’s a Crowd

Surely many of the congregation, well at least the older ones, or maybe I ought to say those of more mature years, remember the time when we got proper tickets on public transport and not today’s flimsy thin bits of paper. “Why does the inspector at the barrier punch a hole in the ticket?” the child once asked. “It is to enable you to pass through”, was the ambiguous answer.

The train tickets were once of thick card, the old tram or bus tickets of stout paper, of different colours according to price; halfpenny ones were green and penny ones white as I remember. They had four numbers printed across the top, with the price of the ticket displayed in the middle, giving five numbers in all. This combination allowed interesting games to be invented to while away a journey.

There was a difference of opinion as to how to deal with a half, as in a penny ha’pence ticket. Some ignored the half, but in our rules we added the figures together so 1½d (1+1+2) became four, 2½d (2+1+2) five and so on. One knew the day was going to be a lucky one if a seven appeared among the five numbers on the ticket. A seven pence ticket with four sevens at the top was likened to winning the lottery. Some saw significance in the number 5, though I can’t remember why. Older children might play a form of the card game cribbage, the five numbers representing five playing cards; girls calculated, by applying a formula to the sum of the numbers, the age at which they would marry and likely size of the family they could expect to produce on reaching womanhood. Others will recall different games associated with the ticket numbers for variations were endless.

Thinking back, the odd numbers seem to have been more valued than the even ones. The odd numbers were where the lucky numbers lay, The nines and threes as well as the sevens and fives, but why this should be so I don’t know. Personally, I prefer even to odd. Those awkward prime numbers which won’t share out nicely are, with one exception, all odd numbers. Eleven, unlucky thirteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-three and the rest of the prime numbers are all rather ugly figures to my mind.

Give me two, four, six, eight anytime; comfortable, attractive, rounded figures. Four square is about honesty, reliability, solidity, unlike the triple-sided triangle with nasty sharp corners; three-legged stools will topple the unwary, give me a proper chair or stool with four good legs every time.

So many enjoyable things in life are connected with even numbers, particularly the twos. Fish and chips, with salt and vinegar, is a meal made in heaven, to be followed by strawberries and cream. Daisy was wooed in the music hall ditty by a young man on a bike with a promise to buy a tandem; boy meets girl, eventually becoming man and wife. Two by two the animals entered the ark, whilst the rain came down in another handy couple, cats and dogs according to reports. Grommet and Wallace share cheese and biscuits, and possibly tripe and onions as well.

Frequently the pair is composed of two parts each complementing the other as the two form one whole. Steak and kidney are not in opposition as ingredients of the pie. Both stand in their own right, but as partners together they form a unity which is greater than the parts.
But let us turn to less frivolous examples. In the 23rd Psalm goodness and mercy are linked. Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, sang the psalmist. Goodness and mercy are not one and the same.

They are admirable, desirable virtues in their own right, but, coming together, form a unity which is greater than either alone. Mercy, as with sympathy, provides the necessary savoury filling to what could otherwise be a rather worthy pastry case labelled goodness. Sympathy, coupled with understanding, is to be preferred to the demonstration of either quality in isolation. The wholeness of the person exhibiting this synthesis is rightly applauded.

Peace and quiet may exist each in its own right, but real contentment is experienced as they come together, fusing into a whole spiritual experience: the peace which passes all understanding as the memorable phrase puts it..
The philosophy of a complete life which Jesus espoused to his disciples was linked to pairing.

The commandments which governed a good life were boiled down to an essential two – to love God and to love one’s neighbour. To love God alone is to have a theory which might not be put into practice. Sincere love of neighbour arises out of, and is sustained by, a religious philosophy founded upon the love of the Creator.

You will recall that the coin had two sides. Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God. James coupled faith with works, belief needing to be demonstrated in action; conviction put to practical use in serving others. Wholeness arises from the coming together of these two sides of a person’s nature. They are the two legs which enables a man or woman to stride through life confidently. To neglect one in favour of the other is to limp rather than run, to stumble and eventually to fall.

Frank Sinatra once sang, “Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage. It’s an institute you can’t disparage. Dad was told by mother, you can’t have one without the other.”
And of course therein rests a truth. We have the power of choice. As the chef chooses the ingredients with care, balancing the one against the other to obtain the optimum result, so we in life balance, or too often fail to balance, our pairs. I must stop returning to food metaphors less you all go home hungry. I’ll try to think of a different comparator. We may devote ourselves completely to our faith, our love of God, until we become introverted, isolated, other-worldly and oblivious to the needs of others.

On the other hand we may be so involved with ministering to neighbours that we have no time to renew strength. The ability to place in perspective is weakened. Time to meditate, to look beyond our own narrow lives, our selfish cares and interests, is essential for spiritual health. The complete and mature person has learnt to balance on both limbs.

Twin features of what might be described in a shorthand way as the good life are choice and balance. A visual illustration of balance might be a pair of scales. If you overload one scale pan at the expense of the other, balance is lost.

A debate calls for the presentation of two opposing points of view; a discussion in which all have the same opinion is lifeless and unsatisfying. Opinions are formed as counter-views are weighed and evaluated. An alternation of sunshine and showers, as well as giving us an endless opportunity for discussion – conversation surely would die if weather was constant – enhances our appreciation of both types of meteorological phenomena. (A preponderance of wet August days recently, with little balancing sunshine has not brought joy in its train. Too much of one and too little of the other.)
Our lives are ultimately judged by our success in this balancing process. Our failures are brought about as we give undue and unprincipled emphasis to one of the components at the expense of the other. If self-indulgence becomes more important than duty to others, then we are egotistical and self-centred. If spirituality is disregarded for pleasure seeking, then selfishness becomes our trademark.

If we suppress or ignore the criticisms of others, then arrogance and pride mark our existence. The still, small voice within must curb our judgements if we are to approach the standards implied by a Christian life.

Though we have self-will and are free to make our own choice, I believe the choice cannot be wisely exercised without the help which comes from that force for which we use the omnibus term, God. That force, that power, whatever it may be, enables us the better to use our inadequate judgement. The knowledge that we are in the presence of other seekers, other searchers for truth, helps support us. That is an essential pairing, oneself and the congregation.

“Two’s Company” is a splendid phrase, evoking a picture of happiness and contentment. We think of husband and wife, mother and child, father and son, God and people, tutor and scholar, and countless further examples. A vignette showing hand in hand, arm in arm, or hand on shoulder appropriately illustrates the book of friendship.

We are free to walk through life in solitude if we so choose. We are free, if we so desire, to reject the pair and select the single, seek only power without curb, to receive and never to give. But if we do, our road will be indeed a lonely one, satisfaction and completeness will be denied, balance will not be achieved, and our mouths will taste the gall but seldom the sweetness.

I concede that occasions arise when larger combinations might be the most appropriate pattern, even if involving an odd number, but in general, “three’s a crowd” will apply. Novelists are fond of writing on a theme around the eternal triangle, which brings unhappiness in its wake. Mrs. Malaprop might well have spoken of the infernal triangle, wherein tension rather than peace is an outcome.

Tragedy and ill-luck may or may not come in packages of three. Allegedly seven years of ill-fortune awaits the one who breaks a mirror. What is, I believe, proven is that a surer formula for happiness is based upon a duality, a pairing. Two is not only company, it is peace and contentment. Though there are those who see true religion as being based on a Trinity, I find a duality more to my taste. Two is not only company, it is also a comfort.

So my lucky numbers are even, not odd. Numbers you can divide and share, not those intransigent prime numbers. Pairing and sharing are twin pillars supporting a good day.

C.J. Rosling 26 April 1992

As “Pairs”

Fulwood 26 April 1992; 30 June 1996
Chesterfield 26 April 1992
Mexborough 3 October 1993; 25 August 1996
Upper 14 October 1994
Underbank 28 July 1996
Doncaster 18 August 1996
Hucklow 22 September 1996; 2 December 2001
Bradford 22 February 1998

As “Pairsmark2”

Hucklow 24th August 2008

Sunday Sermon – 11 November 2018

We Shall Remember

Today is Remembrance Sunday. Today, acts of worship are taking place throughout the land, in churches and chapels, round Cenotaph and war memorial, in city and in village. Parades are being held, the silence for recollection and prayer descends. Formal, almost stylistic acts of grief and sorrow are enacted. The two so-called Great Wars – though in truth there is nothing great about war – are history rather than episodes in the lives of an increasing number of the population. We who grow old will remember them, but for many it is a handed down memory of deeds, valour, suffering and tragedy, rather than one of personal reminiscence.

The origin of Remembrance Sunday is with what was Armistice Day; the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that saw the conclusion of the First World War. That war was optimistically, and as it proved, mistakenly, referred to as the war to end all wars.

There are now a minority of the population who recall the two wars from personal memory; even fewer from participation in those horrendous battles of 1914 to 1918. No one under seventy eight years of age was even born before the first world war ended. Any surviving combatants must be well over ninety. There are more of us who have memories and experiences of the conflict of 1939 to 1945. But the Second World War did not, no more than the first one, prove to be a war to end all wars.

Troops from our own country have since then been involved in Malaya, Korea, Belise, the Falklands and several other places, not to mention the so called “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Five years ago a short but bloody battle was fought in Iraq.

Soldiers and civilians from many lands continue to be victims of war. Merciless carnage, even as I speak, takes place in many parts of the world. During the last few days many of us have been shocked by terrible pictures on our television screens of slaughter in central Africa, unbelievable cruelty inflicted upon even the children. Peace has a hollow ring to many people throughout the world. Armistices and cease-fires are signed from time to time. But an armistice is but a step on the road to peace. True peace is as yet an elusive goal for the many who suffer.

I remember well the start of the Second World War. I sat in Church that September Sunday morning in 1939, my father taking the service which started at 10.30. Following the invasion of Poland, an ultimatum had been given to Germany which expired at 11.00. Soon after eleven, a member of the congregation who had slipped out to listen to the wireless, came back and signalled to my father that war had been declared, and he announced this from the pulpit.

It was a bitter blow to him, for he was a life-long pacifist, and had suffered as such in the First World War. Years were to pass, and many casualties among civilians as well as troops were to be sustained from that Sunday onwards, before peace was to reign again. Young men and women, as well as some not so young, in that congregation left over the months and years that followed to don uniforms. Some did not return.

Remembrance Sunday is an occasion when collective memory is built up from numerous personal memories. Mine are of young men, colleagues and play friends, who went to war after September 1939, and lost their lives. The young pilot who was shot down before the war had hardly begun dropping leaflets over Germany; the local solicitor’s only son who was lost, presumed drowned, from an aircraft carrier; the young rear-gunner with whom I shared air warden duties, who survived only two trips on raids over Europe before being killed; my mother’s cousin dying in a tank at Dunkirk; the school friend struck down in Normandy following D-Day; another friend who survived Arctic convoys to Russia but whose health was so damaged that he died soon after peace was declared.

Our memories naturally are personal, but grief and pain are universal. My memories, and your memories are replicated not only nation-wide, but world-wide. As a member of the forces I worked mostly in army hospitals. Not only British troops came into hospital beds. Young Germans and Italians came, sometimes to die. The grief of their families, our enemies as we had to regard them, was without doubt as acute as the grief experienced by allied families.

Once during an air-raid I saw a fiery ball falling from the sky. It was a German aircraft which had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. I thought of the crew probably trapped in the blazing plane falling to their death. Families in Germany would mourn, just as families I knew mourned our dead. It all seemed so desperately sad and futile. Young lives from many countries prematurely ended.

Remembrance Sunday, though it has special meaning for those whose memory includes their own experiences, is more comprehensive than that. Known relatives or friends who paid the price of war with their lives or their health, or through personal suffering may be in the thoughts of some of us. But it is also an opportunity for every-one, young and old, to reflect on the obscenity of war itself.

Some speak lightly of war, using terms like war games. Surely they can have no imagination, or no understanding of what war means. For war is no game. True, there is a comradeship in adversity which is remembered and cherished. Individuals show courage, and make sacrifices for others. But war itself breeds that which is in direct contradiction to what we call Christian values.

The values are not unique to Christianity; they are shared by other great religions. But these qualities are denied or suppressed in armed conflict. Instead of love, war preaches hatred; in place of the sanctity of life, war revels in the ability to kill; lies and deceit are justified; building and reclamation is overtaken by wanton destruction; accord becomes coercion; fear takes the place of tranquillity; what would be rightly labelled as a crime at any other time becomes lauded as a deed of valour. The good soldier is he who kills or maims the greatest number. And increasingly the largest casualties are not among the uniformed men and women, but of innocent civilians of all ages and both sexes.

I do not know whether war is avoidable in any circumstance, or is simply inevitable. If I have not been able to embrace pacifism it is because of other evils which exists in the world. Evils of oppression, massacres of minorities, and cruelty run rife as in the camps of Belsen. Those unspeakable acts since matched in other camps in other countries. But war is so horrific, that it must be a final, desperate last resort.

One consoling thought is that even bitter enmities nourished by war do not last for ever. A good friend of mine was able to entertain for two weeks a party of Japanese in her home for a fortnight a few years ago, and to pay a reciprocal visit to an ordinary Japanese home, living with the family and enjoying generous and kindly hospitality. Immediately after the end of 1945 such visits would have been unimaginable. Similarly, friendship and interchange between European citizens once sworn enemies are commonplace today. Bitter memories can be and are being put aside.

Scarring as are the experiences of war, one message becomes clear as time passes. It is that is hatred and destruction are transitory. As Paul reminds us, it is faith, hope and love which abide.

What stops most of us committing such crimes as murder, burglary, theft, rape, child molesting and the like is not fear of the law as such, but a sense of right and wrong, a respect for others. Laws in themselves are insufficient to protect and control, it is the goodness, contrasted with the wickedness, of individuals, which ultimately determines how peaceable is our existence.

Similarly war may deal with an immediate crisis. It may free a subject people, it may deter a tyrant: but true peace comes not because of deterrents or through imposition by armed force. It comes because nation wishes to live at peace with neighbour.

The bulk of people are, in spite of our sometime pessimistic anxieties, law-abiding, peace-loving folk, who would be so whether or not the laws were harsh or lenient. They have no wish to covet from neighbour, to steal or to murder. When the nations of the world and the men and women who rule them are similarly so minded, then perhaps war will cease.

But the goodness that lies within individuals and nations needs to be nurtured and fed. It is nurtured by worship, and it is fed by prayer. Nations will not be righteous unless people are righteous. Nations are made up of individuals like us. Unless we are ourselves peace-loving, neighbour-loving, God-loving, then we cannot expect the world to be so. The easy thing to say is that we are but one, and therefore give up. But that was not the answer the early Christians gave, and many more who followed them.

It is not the answer that many we remember today, from many lands and in many generations, would want us to give. Too many lives have ended prematurely through strife and war. Many more I fear will be lost in the future. But if this carnage is ever to end it can only be because goodness has finally triumphed through the constancy of men and women of, to use the old phrase, good faith.

A favourite hymn of mine is by Horatius Bonar, a Free Scottish minister in the last century – “They live the longest who live well..”. Two couplets from that hymn come to mind.

“Sow truth, if thou the true wouldst reap;
Who sows the false shall reap the vain;”

and

“Sow love, and taste its fruitage pure;
Sow peace and reap its harvest bright;”

Our thought for today and every day is in the two commandments of love. The sustaining of these is our best hope of peace.

It is the debt we ought to pay to those of all ages, from every land, whose lives have been curtailed by war. We repeat, “We Shall Remember Them”.

C.J. Rosling 12 November 1994

Hucklow 13 November 1994
Mexborough 13 November 1994

Sunday Sermon – 4 November 2018

Building Dams

Robert Browning wrote those oft-quoted lines

“Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last of life
For which the first was made.”

Whether age is really to be preferred to youth is one of those insoluble problems, like whether or not the football or cricket teams of yesteryear were better or worse than those of today. Or whether Charles Dickens was a better story-teller than Antony Trollope. There is no definite answer, only opinions to be held and points to argue. What cannot be gainsaid is that age has a greater store of memories than youth, and that we old people spend much time recounting, repeatedly recounting, these memories, thus entertaining ourselves and boring every-one else.

Usually among our more vivid memories are those from childhood, with the less pleasant passages conveniently forgotten, the hurts and buffets passed over. The long hot summers which always were, the winters when it always snowed at Christmas, glamorised, for time has softened all hard edges, and confused fact with imagination. So let me now use the privilege of the pulpit to recall a memory and bore you all for a moment.

My early boyhood was spent in a small town with fields, moors and open spaces literally over the garden wall. We roamed the fields playing football, cricket, rounders, and cowboys and Indians. We lit fires, climbed trees and searched, mostly unsuccessfully, for bird nests. We lay in the grass and watched the lark soar. Up on the nearby moors we heard the curlew call, though we failed to spot her. Then, when other games palled, we would build a dam in one of the streams which flowed down from the hills.

It is the dam building I remember most vividly. Choose the right spot, and, by judiciously placing stones, filling gaps with sods of grass, clay and pieces of wood, the three inch deep stream became a pool, a couple of feet or more in depth. There we looked upon the lake we had created, upon which makeshift boats of wood could be sailed. It was a sea with unplumbed depths. With rolled up trouser legs, the brave would seek to cross the wide ocean on foot. Constant attention was required to the dam wall, for leaks appeared as the pressure grew. The deeper the water, the greater the pressure.

In reality, it was a physics lesson on the storage of energy, of the power within nature; a practical exercise in engineering, even if it was to us but a game.

Thinking about it now, one can visualise the scene. That which had been a restless, scurrying brook, never still but always moving on to new fields, was transformed, behind the dam, to a stretch of still water, peaceful and calm; still waters running deep. The headlong rush checked, the waters were subdued, as contemplative calm was imposed.

Eventually we tired of the game, or perhaps hunger told us it was time to go home. A vital stone was removed from the wall, and we watched the tidal wave sweep downstream with a powerful surge, carrying stones and debris before it. The power of the water was awesome. Those peaceful depths contained a strength far greater than that of the puny stream which normally trickled down the valley.

Our game of dam building was thousands of years old, even if we did not know it. From similar childish games long ago, the techniques of irrigation had evolved; the method of harnessing power to drive, first water wheels and later electric generators, had developed. The provision of fresh water to whole communities had grown from such playful beginnings. Industrial processes requiring huge supplies of cooling or cleansing water were to spring up. Dams play a vital role in harnessing naturally occurring energy to the service of mankind. Their discovery ranks in importance alongside that of the wheel.

But there is much more to be learnt. The building of dams is a metaphor for the development of society structures, and, conversely, the bursting of a dam wall, illustrative of the breakdown of communal harmony.

We are born as individuals, each with his or her own store of energy, each descending through life’s hills and valleys on the journey to the eternal ocean from which we came, and to which we must return. Individually and independently we have but limited strength. We may move a grain of sand here, a stone is worn microscopically there. A reed sways, a twiglet moves as we pass; but little changes. Alone we are too ineffectual, too weak.

As a dam is built, the ceaseless rush is calmed and our strength is added to that of others. We are of a community, part of a powerful force, capable of driving great machines of change, able to transform the desert, that it may blossom as the rose. No longer merely part of a tiny stream idly passing by, we become a powerful pool of energy, whereby the world may be changed for good, or for ill.

But the dam must be maintained in good order. I have on my book-shelves a copy of a book which I am sure many of you will have read, “The Collapse of the Dale Dyke Dam, 1864”. This is the story of the great Sheffield flood, when the bursting of the Dale Dyke Dam caused great devastation and loss of life from Rivelin, Malin Bridge, through Hillsborough and down into the City centre. It is a riveting account of the uncontrolled fury of those unleashed waters.

Though dams are there to benefit a nation, if they are breached they bring misery and distress. So it is with societies which break down. The forces released are truly dreadful in their destructive powers. In Angola, in Sudan, in Somalia, in the Balkans, on the shores of the Black Sea, in Ethiopia and in central Africa, we have seen all too clearly and sickeningly the consequences of the bursting of the dams that hold societies together. Nearer home, for three decades the dam in the island of Ireland revealed ominous cracks, but still holds. Hopefully, slowly some of the worse cracks are slowly being repaired.

What are the stones, the cements, the clays, the binding materials of the structures that weld societies’ dams and give them strength, so creating powerful social units from individual souls?

They are the virtues of decency and respect, of tolerance and regard for others. They are tenets within a creed which says I must respect you and observe your dignity as a human companion, for I wish you to have regard to my privacy and right to be treated with respect. The materials which build our dams must have the strength and adhesive properties which come when our rights and freedoms are constrained, so that they may allow the rights and freedoms of others to co-exist.

The construction of the dam must allow for inter-twining and inter-mixing, so the pieces inter-lock as do the parts of a jig-saw puzzle. When the adhesion fails, when individuals are pushed apart rather than drawn together, then cracks appear. If two magnets are placed together with north pole to south and vice versa, then they stick like glue. Turn them round, so similar poles meet, and they fiercely repel one another. No power can bring them together. So with people: if the pole of hatred is faced by a similar pole of antagonism, then they are forced apart. Match apprehension with understanding, hatred with love, evil with goodness, and a bond may be formed.

But so far my metaphor is incomplete. A dam has its safety valves, its over-flows and sluice gates, so that when the pressure grows too great, when the waters are risen too high, relief can be given.

No matter how strong the dam wall, the strength is finite. It has its breaking point. So in all human communities, tensions arise and must be relieved if disaster is to be averted. What shall be our sluice gates, our pressure relieving valves, within society?

Partly, of course, they are secular. There must be a system of justice which is accessible, and in which people have confidence. There must be aesthetic pleasures – music, literature, libraries, theatres, sports and so on – which uplift the spirit, bringing peoples together in joy, as they share their exultation. Education for all, equality of opportunity, housing for all citizens, care for the sick, infirm and disadvantaged are obvious rights. But these attributes of a decent society, important, nay essential, as they are in themselves, are insufficient. Material comforts are supplements to, not substitutes for, a spiritual dimension.

When we are part of a family, however tenuous the links that sometimes bind us within the family, we are aware of something special. I spoke earlier of the virtues of decency and respect, of tolerance and regard for others. If we are to encompass these qualities, it is because we see ourselves as part of the same family, for we are all children of God. We are a part of his creation.

Great civilisations of the past have collapsed. The dam has burst. Those collapses have occurred partly, if not wholly, because of the inadequacy of the sluice gates, the safety valves. Where the belief in a spiritual power is extant, of a dimension that is outside material things, a faith which believes that within all people is a spark of the divine, then the nation may thrive. Where the people lose their souls, then to be sure, dams do burst.

We may see around us a world in disorder, where materialism is preached and practised. But we have a sacred trust to keep alive the beliefs that the world is held together by powers beyond our understanding, but upon which depends our survival. Our religious beliefs give meaning to life. They hold the dam together. They ensure that power is used to the benefit and not the ultimate destruction of mankind. Even in our blackest moments of despair, we must not forsake our trust. Our duty is to maintain our faith and to hand it on undamaged. The future of the dams must not be undermined with a time-bomb constructed out of a materialism purged of the spirituality which we profess and hold dear.

Francis Thompson once wrote,

“World invisible, we view thee,
World intangible, we touch thee,
World unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!”

Lose that faith, and we lose our spirituality. Our salvation is within our spirituality. To that we must hold if the dam is to remain intact.

C.J. Rosling 25 April 1993

Fulwood 25 April 1993; 1 8 June 2000
Mexborough 6 June 1993; 23 November 1997
Hucklow 20 June 1993; 25 January 1998; Doncaster 12 February 1995
Bradford 14 January 1996
Chesterfield 20 June 1993; 12 October 2003
Upper Chapel 31 October 1993
Stannington 6 November 2005