Thank God for Diversity!

VIELFALT im Augenblick” (“Diversity in a blink of an eye”) is the title of a photography exhibition which my wife, Alexandra Bosbeer, is putting on here in Siegburg, near Bonn, where we live. The exhibition opens on 19 November, so our flat has been a hive of industry with photographs being printed in various sizes and stuck on the wall in the hallway to create a mosaic of pictures of people, trees and other natural “objects”, and views of infrastructure in the modern world in which we live. My wife describes the (carefully selected) assortment of images as a “mosaic of hopes, dreams, experiences, opportunities and disappointments”. It is life as seen through the lens of her camera.

As I left the church after worship this morning, leaves were floating down from the sky, blown over from a large tree in the churchyard. I love the variety of colours in the autumn: yellow, brown, red, green and all shades in between. As a song-writer, I find that autumn (or “fall” as my American friends would say) is as much a source of inspiration as spring. Here are a couple of verses from one of my songs:

In this dark world we rarely see
The beauty of the Earth,
The richly coloured tapestry
Surrounding us from birth.

In these dark times of fear and strife
We need the light to see
The beauty of each human life,
Of all humanity.

Both the natural world and the human race make up a richly coloured tapestry. The rich diversity of living creatures and of human beings is beautiful to behold in every Augenblick, in every present moment. Let us treasure this diversity, not only because it is beautiful, but also because it is essential to our survival on this planet.

Anyone who has any understanding of ecology knows that the more diverse an ecosystem is in terms of the variety of species (biodiversity), the more stable it is. The web of life contains threads of many colours. The greater the diversity, the more resilient the web is. A thread of one colour can be removed without weakening the web significantly. One species may be wiped out by disease, for example, but this does not cause the ecosystem to collapse. On the other hand, an ecological community which has only relatively few species is much more susceptible to collapse, e.g. if one of the species dies out for some reason. A web with threads of only a few different colours is seriously weakened when all the threads of one colour are removed.

Much the same applies to human communities. Multicultural communities in which people respond to change in a variety of ways are more resilient than monocultural communities. When change hits a community, when a harvest fails or a factory closes down, the more diverse the community is in terms of agriculture or industry, the better the community will be able to cope. The resilience of communities and societies in our modern world depends on cultural diversity. We need the wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of lots of different groups in order to tackle the complex problems which communities and nations now face in a globalised world.

At the global level, we need the unfettered wisdom, knowledge, skills and expertise of every community and group throughout the world in order to manage climate change. So we need to put our energy into building intercultural and international cooperation in all fields of life: scientific, technological, economic, social, and political.

Nine months have passed since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons for this – apart from being busy with other things – is that I have been left speechless by the result of the referendum in the UK. The decision to leave the European Union has left me more sad than I can say and more angry than I like to admit. Outside the European Union, especially if there is a “hard Brexit”, the UK will become impoverished both economically and culturally.

What makes me angry is not only the result of the referendum, but also the degree of hostility towards “foreigners” which has become increasingly evident in recent months. I read in the Guardian yesterday about Germans living in the UK who now feel that they are unwelcome. Neighbours are asking when they are going to leave. If a significant number of these German people leave the UK, this will have a negative impact on the NHS, on universities, and on the companies in which they work. The UK will be poorer both economically and socially. And then what about the Poles, the Portuguese, the Romanians, the Latvians, the Greeks, the Italians, and the Spanish…? Are they all going to feel unwelcome and be encouraged to leave? Is our supposedly Christian nation then going to tell all Muslims and Jews to leave? Heaven forbid!

Thank God for the diversity of the natural world and the diversity of the human race.


Reflections on being of no fixed abode

Yesterday, without setting out to do so, I found myself telling whoever might happen to read my blog posts how much I have enjoyed being of no fixed abode and therefore being able to discover four different corners of England and Wales. How is it that I have been able to experience this time as a blessing rather than a curse?

Firstly, I have some money in the bank – not much, but enough to tide me over for a number of months, so long as I don’t have to spend a lot of money on rent. I am not (yet?) destitute. It helps that I’m able to earn a little money by doing translation work.

Secondly, I have a number of good friends, and one special friend, who are only too happy to accommodate me in their homes for a while, especially if I can help out in some way. One friend even gave me some pocket money as well as free board and lodging whilst I was helping out on his sheep farm for a fortnight.

Thirdly, I feel reasonably confident that I shall find somewhere to settle with some sort of income before my money runs out. I just need to take steps to make that happen.

Fourthly, I have been able to spend a lot of time doing what I enjoy doing: spending time with friends, getting to know people, gardening, walking, cycling, visiting National Trust properties, playing pooh-sticks on Pooh Sticks Bridge…

Fifthly, I suppose I do have a little faith – in God, the Spirit or whoever he/she is. I remember that Julian of Norwich has assured us that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”. And my special friend has reminded me that Jesus pointed out that God provides for the lilies of the field which do not spin or reap and yet are better adorned than Solomon in all his glory. We do not need to be anxious about the morrow.

Songs and hymns sustain me – songs such as “Come by the Hills” with the refrain: “And cares of tomorrow must wait ‘til this day is done.”

With so many reasons to be cheerful, I cannot feel grumpy or fearful or anxious for long. When I was feeling grumpy and fearful one morning a couple of days ago, I sang the following hymn (which I learnt at the Quaker boarding school that I went to) to myself:

Father, hear the prayer we offer.
Not for ease that prayer shall be,
But for strength that we may ever
Live our lives courageously.

Not for ever in green pastures
Do we ask our way to be,
But the steep and rugged pathway
May we tread rejoicingly.

Not for ever by still waters
Would we idly rest and stay,
But would smith the living fountains
From the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,
In our wanderings be our guide;
Through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at our side.

(Words by Love M. Willis)

One last thought: I imagine that this experience of being of no fixed abode – even though I haven’t been totally destitute and friendless – may have been given to me “that I might have a sense of all conditions”, to use the words of George Fox.